Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Maximizing Benefits from Multiball Training in Table Tennis

The topic of multiball came from a good friend of mine and player/coach from New Zealand who wanted to know my thoughts about multiball feeding when coaching. I figured I would take the opportunity to look at it from both sides of the coin as both a player and coach and see how you can get the very best out of multiball sessions as a player and provide the best quality training if you are a coach.

Remember for more tips and blogs on how to improve your table tennis, head to my Coaching Blog.

Liu Guoliang feeds Ma Long multiball
Everybody knows that there are many great benefits to multiball, the main factor being the high amount of repetitions in strokes and movements. Here are some helpful ideas to get the best out of your multiball:

Player Training Tips:

Incorporate Multiball into Regular Training: Multiball is an excellent training tool for players of any level and is often overlooked once techniques are developed. The repetitive and high paced nature of multiball means it can aid players all the way from beginners through to World Champion players.

Whether you are fine-tuning or fixing technique, improving footwork movements and speed, increasing stamina or simulating match scenarios, multiball can offer a helping hand. The differences between training with no multiball and adding multiball on a regular basis can be significant.

Focus Your Session: I tend to focus a handful of drills around a key area for the session. Take for example the pivot forehand movement. I can practice a plain backspin feed for opening, or perhaps falkenberg, maybe a forehand short ball transition to pivot forehand, a backhand flick transition to pivot forehand, or others. there are a huge number of drills you can incorporate one key element into.

You could start a session with the focus of 'in and out' footwork and attach a set of related drills, side to side footwork, random topspin elements, full table forehand drills. Each focus area can fill a session and, by working on a number of elements which are fundamental to that focus area, can create a substantial improvement.

You can also read at the bottom of this article about how to build a simple concept into a more complex feeding drill.

Always Strive to the End: One of the things which made a big impact in my game was challenging myself to finish entire buckets of multiball in one go without breaking. I spent the better part of 2 weeks in China doing multiball every day and just grinding myself into the ground to train to the end of each bucket (and they weren't exactly small buckets). This has incredible benefits to physical stamina, training level and form and also psychological aspects.

The mentality that builds of pushing onwards even when your body is screaming to stop is something which can have a lot of positive effects on your game. I found that as each day went on my muscle memory improved, my strokes became more fluid and my movement improved. Aside from that it became easier to finish a box of multiball.

Video Your Multiball Sessions: When the pace is sometimes higher than that of an actual match, a great number of technical errors can come to light. I always feel that multiball is a great time to video and analyse techniques and footwork movements. Sometimes a fixed position ball can also present the opportunity to use slow motion video to really break a technique down and make changes to even minute details.

World Number 1 Ma Long Multiball Training

Basic Feeding Tips:

Pace of the Feeding: One of the key areas, especially for coaches, is knowing how fast or slow to feed the ball. This can almost be a make or break between a good quality training session or one which is not so useful. I like to feed to a number of scenarios;

Focusing on Fixing Technique: Marginally slower starting feed, bigger recovery time between balls to evaluate strokes and recover fully. As the session goes on you can increase the speed and shorten the recovery time.

- Focusing on Stamina and Speed: I always try to aim for a pace which will push the student but not be too fast for them. If the player is making errors because the feeding is too fast for them, that is the point at which you need to slow down.

- Placement Changes: I tend to feed the ball faster when doing short movement within a drill and a touch slower when there is a longer movement where the player has to really stretch.

To Bounce or Not to Bounce?: Some coaches prefer to bounce the ball before feeding it, other choose not to. During my time coaching I have found that it is preferable (for me at least) and more popular to feed underspin with a bounce and topspin without a bounce. This allows you to achieve a greater feeding speed and contact quality on the topspin ball as from the hand it is fed above the net height.

Distance from the Net: To give your player more reaction time during basic long backspin or topspin drills you can move you feeding position closer to the back edge of the table, this gives a more realistic time-frame for the player to react to the ball at 'matchplay speed'. Multiball however is particularly good for offering a speed higher than matchplay so as to prepare a player to deal with match speed with ease. Standing closer to the net reduces the reaction time significantly and can add extra pressure to the training player.

Vary the Spin and Pace: Once a player has become accustomed to basics it is important to create some variation when feeding multiball. One of the weaknesses one could assume of a training robot and sometimes multiball is the constant nature of feeding. Try and change the amount of spin on the ball frequently as well as the pace of the ball and also the depth on the table. These changes will simulate real opponent scenarios and add random elements into an otherwise fixed drill so as to avoid mindless repetition.

Increasing the Degree of Difficulty: Often each ball added to a drillset can have exponential effects on the difficulty of each drill. Adding speed, spin and additional ball placements are all ways of increasing the difficulty levels of a drill.

The great thing about multiball is you can build on something very basic and turn it into something much more complex. Here is an example:

Two Phases: The two ball drill of one short push on the forehand line and one pivot forehand loop off backspin from the backhand corner.

Three Phases: The two phases above followed by a wide forehand ball.

Four Phases: After the wide forehand ball, recover to play a backhand.

Complex Drill: Forehand Short Push > Pivot Forehand Loop off Backspin > Forehand Topspin > Backhand Recovery Topspin > Falkenberg Transition (after backhand, step around forehand then wide forehand). Then recover to start the drill again.

You can do this with any simple drill, adding different elements of the game in. If you go through the complex drill above there is an in and out footwork movement and short touch, followed by an opening ball and a pivot movement, followed by a long footwork movement and a long recovery. Granted it's not an easy drill but it can improve many parts of your game.

Austria's Stefan Fegerl in Multiball Training

So I hope both players and coaches alike can take something away from this article. As always I am looking for more topics to write on. Send your submissions to mhtabletennis@gmail.com!

Sunday, 11 September 2016

5 Steps for Mastering Service Deception in Table Tennis

This blog is from another question submission which I received recently and will focus on how to create deception in your service game. The serve is so important in establishing a foothold in a table tennis match that making it as difficult to read as possible is crucially important, this blog will offer some tips as to how you can increase that difficulty level.

Remember for more tips and blogs on how to improve your table tennis, head to my Coaching Blog.

5 Steps for Mastering Service Deception
So here are 5 simple tips to follow in order to improve your service and ability to make the serve more difficult to read.

Step 1: Master the Simple Stroke Contact for Each Spin (Top, Side, Back, No Spin)

It could be the most basic service motion possible but behind every deceptive and difficult to read service is a very simple contact motion. When I work on improving the spin or contact of my serve I strip it back down to the bare essential motion. If you can master the basic contact for each spin and maximize the spin produced in that serve then you can then work forward and put the basic contact into some more creative service motions.

Step 2: Create Simple Service Variations (Spin Combinations)

Once you have the basic contact for each main spin type (top, side, back) it becomes useful for you to combine spins together. By making contacts across the bottom axis of the ball and contacting in different directions you can combine top/side, back/side serves and change from a continuous trajectory to more kick-type serves where the ball path deviates sharply after the second bounce. Having variations in movement as well as just spin can make the ball much more difficult to read.

You can see Jun Mizutani's serve in the video below and see the effect of combining sidespin into top and backspin serves and the movement patterns of the serve trajectory!


Step 3: Control the Speed and Amount of Contact Time

Not only can you cause deception in spin direction and movement but also in changing between spin and no spin. The ability to control the contact of the ball on service can create a huge advantage in a match, particularly when a no spin serve may create the perfect surprise.

In order to master the no spin serve it needs to look like spin is being imparted on the ball, this means you must be able to maintain a level of acceleration into the contact point. If the serve contact and stroke looks too slow and soft it will be easier to read as having less spin.

The best way to execute the serve is to hide a flat sharp contact within a service motion so you are hitting the back of the ball without making a brushing motion on the ball. Another option is to make the service motion angled and then quickly change to a flat contact or switch direction on the ball contact. The second method allows the momentum into the ball contact to stop on the direction change and create less spin on the ball.

Step 4: Put The First 3 Steps into Basic Deceptive Follow-through Motions

The first step up from basic service motions is to make a simple motion with a basic added deception. You can try and do a basic pendulum serve and attempt to change the direction of the follow-through (after ball contact). You can try and make a backspin serve and pull your racket upwards after the contact point to make it look like topspin or vice versa. These motions and follow-through motions are still simple but are important in getting smooth actions and core service motions.

Step 5: Incorporate Everything Together into Match Serves

The final step is to incorporate steps 1-4 together into your final match serves. Once you have mastered the first 4 steps all you need to do is make some creative service motions, changing the spin, trajectory and follow through.

The best part about this process is you can break it down into simple parts and as such working on troubleshooting issues becomes simpler. I may have match serves to use now but if I want to work on the spin amount I will go back and revisit step 1 in service practice, afterall the core motion of the serve is where the spin comes from.

This is a great time to start practicing the serves against training partners and getting feedback on how effective the service is. You can also play games where only one player serves for the whole game which gives you a chance to see how reliable your serves are in a match and whether you get the outcomes that you want from them.

My Coin Serve Trick

So I hope this has been helpful to you all and you can work through the steps to master the art of deceptive table tennis service!

Remember if you have any troubles with your game or want a detailed answer to a question, be sure to email mhtabletennis@gmail.com any time!

Saturday, 27 August 2016

How to Deal with Losing Confidence When Your Best Shots Start Going Wrong

So recently I started a new job with USA Table Tennis as the Digital and Social Media Coordinator, you can read that article here. I had a busy couple of months doing media coverage and PR with the US Olympic Team as well as covering the US Nationals and Super Camp. After finally getting back home I covered the Rio Games.

As you can imagine my blog took a back seat but I'm happy to say I'm hoping to get back on track. Thank you to everyone for their submission replies to my email the other day. I loved this question from Roger, so I decided to go with this one first.

Regaining Confidence
Image from USA Today
Roger's question was 'How do you regain confidence when your best shot starts going wrong?'

Restoring Confidence in Practice

Obviously there are two occasions where you can lose confidence, one is in practice and the other is in the middle of a match. A player's form fluctuates on a regular basis, that is a normal element of playing a sport. With the highs and lows in training also comes movements in confidence. When we are training well our confidence grows, when we are not in good form our confidence depreciates.

One of the main confidence busters in practice is doubt. On occasions when you are putting a lot of hours into practice and your form hits bottom you may start to wonder whether you are wasting your time. It is important to remember that all players experience lapses in form. So when you are lacking confidence in the training hall, how can you restore it?

Employing a Confidence Drill:

This is one of my favourite concepts, the confidence drill. Usually a confidence drill is the one drill you can execute better than any other drill and sometimes centres around your best shots. Successfully repeating a drill helps your confidence build, especially if you begin to feel like you can't possibly miss.

My confidence drill is backhand to backhand and then I choose a ball and pivot to hit a forehand anywhere. The great thing about this drill is that with the forehand going anywhere it is hard for the training partner to anticipate where the ball is going, which leads to a high success rate as long as you can execute the forehand. A high success rate is the best way to build confidence back up.

Whenever training isn't going well I turn to my confidence drill to help me feel more positive.

Increase Focus on Consistency:

Missing simple balls is the easiest way to destroy your confidence. When you miss a ball which you really feel you shouldn't miss then you start to recognise that something is not going right. Often missing easy balls can be frustrating and emotion creeps into play causing you to distract from the practice or game itself.

Again as above, change the drillset to focus on restoring confidence. Simplify drills and strokes, reduce power and focus on more repetitions. Once you get your touch and form right at the basic level then you can build back up from the foundation levels.

Confidence Crucial to Match Success
Image from ITTF.com

Restoring Confidence in a Match

During a match is probably the worst place to have a dip in confidence, this can be caused by a number of different elements such as:

- Losing a string of points in a row
- Losing a lead
- Missing easy balls or simple executions
- Being genuinely outplayed

There are others of course and it is a psychological battle to stay positive. Losing confidence goes hand in hand with negativity but not always. Here are some things you can do when your confidence in a match starts dwindling.

Evaluate Your Shot Selection and Execution:

It is very important not to get caught up in negativity so you are able to focus on the issue at hand. Why are you missing your best shots?

- Are you making the right shot selection for the incoming ball?
- Are you reading the spin correctly?
- Is your body in the best position to execute the shot?
- Is your stroke technique satisfactory?
- Are you trying to do too much with the ball i.e over-swing, overpower

The list could go on. One thing I find important is to constantly focus on why I am missing shots, especially when they are my best ones. Sometimes losing confidence can detract your attention from very easily solved problems. Always be aware of why you are missing.

Stay Relaxed:

This one is very important. Often for some of the reasons stated above, we can start to get too tense. Being too tight can have a massive impact on your touch and can have big repercussions for your matchplay. Here are some pointers:

- Don't stress your strokes too much, fluid motions are the most efficient.
- Take your time, rushing will increase your rate of errors
- Try and keep your head clear of negative thoughts and focus one point at a time
- Try and focus on placement and control ratio over powerful shots until confidence comes back

Utilise Set Plays:

The best thing to do when you are losing confidence is to win points, I don't think anyone can argue with that. So you need to look to the simplest way to win points, set plays.

Set plays are pre-trained, highly probably structured points which give you a high possibility of winning a point. Every set play starts with a good, reliable serve with a pre-determined response.

Essentially a set play is a well trained point structure where the outcomes of every play are predictable to a high percentage, allowing you to preempt your opponents and hopefully win the point.

When I am struggling in a match or at a tight place i.e 10-10, I almost always look to my set plays to make sure I win the point. Each player has their own unique set plays, often more than one.

If You Don't Have Confidence to Attack, Change Tactics:

If I'm missing attacking strokes frequently in a match I like to change tactics and focus more on out-smarting my opponent. I reduce powerful attacks and replace them with short play, control and strong placement.

If you can't win points from doing your usual gameplay tactics then it is important to realise that before the match is over. When I can't attack I try to focus more on forcing errors and stopping my opponent from attacking. If I can do that then sometimes I will be able to reduce their confidence while restoring mine at the same time, a perfect way to turn the tables and scoreline on its head.


So I hope you have found this article somewhat useful and Roger I hope it has done a good job of responding to your question, again thank you for the submission. Keep them coming guys! :)

Friday, 19 August 2016

MHTableTennis Reviews the Butterfly Tiago Apolonia ZLC

As some of you know I recently got my hands on a Tiago Apolonia ZLC from Butterfly after asking Tiago himself about his initial impressions of the blade. Of course he endorsed it beyond question, as he should! I prepared the blade with Butterfly Tenergy 05 on the forehand side and Tenergy 80 on the backhand and set out to the table to see how it handled. Keep in mind that I had been using a Donic Waldner Senso Carbon for years and so the increase in pace took a while to adjust to! I have now played on a number of occasions with the blade, enough so to give a review that a handful of you have been asking for, though not in video format.

Tiago Apolonia ZLC
From MHTableTennis Instagram (Be sure to Follow!)
Visual Impressions:

First of all before I even opened the box I was excited. The box is in Portugal colours which I thought was really cool. Opening the box and the blade design was the same. Red and Green for Portugal. Tiago I know is a real team player so it was cool to see some of his personality captured in the design.

Specs:

Speed: OFF
Composition: Wood Outer (Double Limba Layers), ZLC Fiber Inner layers
Plies: 5+2
Rubber Combo: FH; Tenergy 05 2.1, BH: Tenergy 80 2.1

Impressions:

Speed
Tiago Apolonia had previously been using an Innerforce ZLC so it is no surprise that there are a great deal of similarities to be found between the two blades. Tiago himself said there were many similarities but the Apolonia ZLC was a touch faster.

Moving from a slower blade, the speed of the ZLC was noticeable instantly for me. It took me a little while to close the angle off and adjust. What I really liked about the speed of the Apolonia ZLC was it's great ability to third ball off backspin. Usually with the Waldner Senso I had favoured a slower opening, particularly on my backhand side. With the Apolonia I felt a renewed sense of athleticism as I worked my way around the corner and hit some stunning 3rd ball forehands.

By producing a concise and sharp contact it is possible to achieve a great deal of acceleration in a short amount of time and that shows when playing the 3rd ball attack.

In the topspin rallies I had to close the angle quite a lot, especially when blocking as the catapult effect was a lot more than I was used to and also on the backhand with the marginally longer trajectory of the Tenergy 80 I had to make further adjustments.

video

You can see in the video above from my Instagram that you can produce a lot of power and acceleration against backspin. I felt that it was a key strength which I was impressed with, particularly since I was looking for a faster alternative to my old blade but with reasonable control ratio.

Control and Touch
One of the great qualities about the inner fiber ZLC blades is the carbon layers being closer to the core. Where the Mizutani is a 5 ply blade (3 wood and 2 carbon), the Apolonia is a 7 ply and thus the inner carbon layers are softened by a double layer of outer wood. So what does this do? Well it takes the incredible speed of the classic ZLC blade and cushions it so as to achieve great touch, incredible speed and a good element of control.

Having used an OFF- carbon with a hollow handle for over 5 years, I have become a big fan of more touchy blades with good control without losing the speed effect. While it took me a few sessions to wear the blade in and the rubber, I quickly began to appreciate the balance of speed with control. You can certainly feel that it is not quite as stiff as other ZLC blades which is something I personally like.

This structure helps it balance a powerful spin oriented and accurate attacking game with some intricacies like touch for counterlooping and topspin blocking close to the table etc.

One area I felt improved greatly with the blade was my close table counterlooping. Usually with the Waldner Senso I was able to make some early counterloops and fade inside out forehands but with the Apolonia the control at high speed is incredible, especially so early in the bounce. With a short controlled counter stroke I was able to produce a very high quality counterloop with incredible pace.

I also found that once I got the hang of the angle adjustments I was able to block fast balls more comfortably and also absorb spin better on opening balls allowing me to control my placement better. The blade definitely allows for a lot more variability in what you can and can't do with different incoming balls.

Initial Difficulties
My initial hardships with the first few sessions were playing with too much of an open face when opening and having too long a swing on occasions. Making precise and efficient strokes is important as with any blade, I felt I was much better off making more concise ball contacts and slightly shorter swings to maximize the acceleration and accuracy. The real strength of the ZLC lies in it's ability to produce a high amount of spin even when accelerating forward over the ball.

I also had some trouble with my backhand block and counter, even my loop sometimes. I'm used to having a slightly slower setup so I tend to use a bit more wrist in my stroke, this was something which caused me a few problems as it sent the ball over the end, as you can see on a few occasions below.

video

Serve and Receive
I felt service contact was improved with the Apolonia, as with many elements of the game the double limba layer really plays an important role in increasing the dwell and contact time and gives a softer feel than regular ZLC blades.

On receive again I had to work some wrist adjustments with my flip to make it a little smoother and angle changes with my short push to keep the ball low, but after a number of sessions I'm relatively comfortable with that now.

On receiving faster serves it becomes easier to generate good acceleration with a short controlled stroke which becomes particularly advantageous when you have a little less time to react.

Matchplay
While training has been going pretty well, there are still a number of adjustments I need to make in the heat of a match. Obviously when you are changing blades there are still a lot of automatic responses and learned adjustments so it takes a little time to build new reactions for the new blade. I can see that the blade will bring some great improvements to my game once I make those adjustments.

Final Judgement: Winner!

After a handful of sessions with the blade, where initially I was skeptical that it might be too fast for me, it has worn in and I am convinced that the Butterfly Tiago Apolonia ZLC will be my new blade. I'm very much looking forward to seeing where my game goes with the added speed and soft touch of this blade! :)

Monday, 6 June 2016

How To Make Your Long Push Effective in Matches

When people talk about long pushing what image comes into your head? Do you see a boring and endless rally between two players both scared to attack? The ball floating back and forth over the net? When somebody long pushes to you it can be the perfect opportunity to attack and a lot of long push balls are played too loose in matches. You need to redefine why you long push in a game and how you can turn the stroke into more of a strategic weapon.

You can read more articles like this in my Coaching Blog.

Former US National Team Member Ariel Hsing