Friday 27 February 2015

Winning in Qatar 'A Pleasant Surprise' For Samsonov

Recently, Vladimir Samsonov showed that age in table tennis really does have no limits. I recall writing a blog on Table Tennis Master about 'Why Samsonov Will Last the Long Mile' and I wasn't far wrong. Vladi is looking as calm and collected as ever and still playing the same fluid, brilliant table tennis he always has.

A Timeless Legend of Table Tennis, Vladimir Samsonov

"I think I can still play well. At least I still believe I can beat the best" Samsonov had to say after the Qatar Open. He credits his ongoing success to the support of his wife and children, family, friends and his coach of the past 6 years V.Shubin from Russia.

After a string of great results, victory over Monteiro, Chuang and then Ovtcharov in the final, he is showing now sign of giving up, sighting future goals at the World Championships, European Championships and of course in his Club League Championships. There really is no saying how long Vladi could remain a top player in the world for, as he seems to be sustaining his level incredibly well!

Monday 23 February 2015

Richard Prause Impressed by 11 Year Old Japanese Wonder-Kid

Tomokazu Harimoto has stolen the spotlight in the past week after the 11 year old Japanese prodigy defeated Omar Assar (World Ranked 43) and Jens Lundqvist (World Ranked 71) at the Safir International Open 2015.

Tomokazu Harimoto, 11 year old Table Tennis Star
Werner Schlager Academy Head Coach Richard Prause had seen the Japanese boy at the Czech Junior and Cadet Open and also saw the match against Lundqvist and seemed fairly impressed, stating Harimoto has "amazing anticipation for his age and really good acceleration."

Prause went on to comment, "He is able to win points not only by good placement or control but also by using the right timing which enables him to play quite fast topspin or flips above the table for a player his age."

Japan certainly have a lot of young potential, with their amazing young doubles combination of Mima Ito and Miu Hirano who made history by winning a World Tour Event at the age of 13. Mima Ito also stunned audiences in her earlier performances at age 12, beating Mathilda Ekholm of Sweden (who was top 50 in the world at the time).

No doubt, promising prospects for Japan who haven't secured a World Championships singles title since 1979 despite having formerly been dominant in the sport.

Richard Prause shares the same sentiment as all of us, "It will be interesting to see his further development, for sure a young boy with great potential and nevertheless still a lot of work to do."

Check out this accurate display of skill by the young Japanese player!

Aruna Struggles on World Tour With Empty Bench

The success of Quadri Aruna in 2014 was unparalleled, resulting in his receipt of the ITTF Star Awards for Best Male Player and Best Point of 2014. Following his impressive ranking increase of over 150 places to the edge of the top 30 players in the world, the pressure to perform is stronger than ever.

ITTF Star Quadri Aruna
In the Kuwait Open ITTF World Tour Event 2015, Aruna was defeated by his Portugese league teammate Joao Geraldo, ranked outside the top 100 players in the world. Following in Qatar he faced a tough matchup against Bojan Tokic and also suffered defeat. Aruna says it is difficult to play alone and the support from a coach in his corner could help him perform at a much higher level.

At the 2014 World Cup, Aruna had been fortunate enough to have the support of German Coach, Martin Adomeit. Now he finds himself in need of that support and is finding it difficult to get the support he needs to fund a coach to travel with him.

"Playing without a coach makes life difficult, it's going to be great if I can have a good coach behind my back in upcoming tournaments. The support of German coach Martin Adomeit made a great difference during the World Cup in Dusseldorf, Germany" Aruna comments on his situation. As you can read in my interview, Pride of Africa Takes The World By Storm, there is a difficulty in getting support from the Nigerian Table Tennis Federation as the sport is not majorly funded there.

Aruna is working tirelessly to try and secure further sponsorship to enable a coach to travel with him to important events. He is fortunate enough to be backed by Sengled for 2015 and by Equipment Giant Joola, but is seeking support for a travelling coach. As an embodiment of the fighting spirit of table tennis, an entertaining rallier and an outstanding performer he is a player we want to see succeeding on the world stage!

For any prospective sponsorship information or offers you can contact his official Facebook Page: Quadri Aruna

Friday 20 February 2015

Table Tennis Troll With a Samsung Galaxy Note 3

I decided to try and have some more fun making videos and my first one was playing around with my Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and trying to hit some cool shots and win some points. I managed to hit some forehands with the battery as well. I'm keen to try and play with some other things and see how much fun I can have with them. Wooden Spoon might be next! Enjoy :)

Thursday 19 February 2015

Why is My Training Level Better than Match Level?

I recently received a request to give some insight into another common area of problem in table tennis. Thanks Michael for your question. Michael told me he is a solid training partner within the top 500 players in his country, but at playing level he would only rate himself in the top 3500. So why is it that some players can be so effective in training and not be able to pull through in matches? What can you do to improve that situation? See more from my Coaching Blog.

This is certainly a problem for a number of players who can be high level training partners but are lacking something in matches. First of all you need to distinguish that there can be a big difference between training and matches and it is important at stages to try and narrow that gap as much as possible. Here are some tips to improve your matchplay.

Improve Your Matchplay
What Kind of Training Are You Doing?

How mixed is your training? Are you doing a lot of fixed placement drills (i.e 3 point forehand and falkenberg). Are you focusing too much on topspin drills? Are you covering all the important areas of your game which need to be covered in order to be effective in matches. Here is a checklist to go through.

Vital Skills for Matchplay

Service - This is on the higher end of the scale for matchplay as the service is the foot in the door and helps setup points from the word go. A strong serve can really swing the course of a match. You need to spend time practising serves, whether it be in individual service practice or by starting more of your table drills from a short serve and backspin ball before going into a topspin drill.

Short and Long Pushing - These are often areas overlooked in training but are both very important to maintain in matches, especially short plays. It is best to include short pushing as part of your training warm-up just for 5 minutes or so, this is a skill that must be sharpened, especially for short receiving in matches. It can be the difference between you having the initiative to attack or being put straight on the defensive. Similarly a good long push can be a weapon, don't think that a long push is a gift to your opponent, a firm, deep push with good backspin to the right place on the table can also be very effective in a match. Take the opportunity to include these in your drills at least semi-regularly.

Opening Balls - The opening ball is a very important ball in a match and achieving a high level of consistency and accuracy are important in order to execute in a match. Again, starting drills from backspin ball and serve is a great way to focus on a more match based situation to help with this. You should aim for a success rate of at least 80% to be really effective in training.

Non-fixed Drills and Anticipation - Not knowing where the ball is going is a key difference between fixed training drills and matches. Try to increase the number of non-fixed drills you do in practice in both placement and ball variation.

i.e Random ball placements for topspin or first backspin ball (unpredictable placement), serve receive 80% long and 20% short (add in irregularities to a drill), serve and attack (genuine reaction to service to mimic a match scenario, also improves point play).

Address The Problem

Michael mentioned that he struggled to win matches to help improve his ranking. Sometimes it means you are just not focusing on matches enough in training. Improving skill and technique are great and a pivotal part of practice, however the end goal of training is usually to be able to win in matches.

You need to know why you aren't winning. Are you too inconsistent? Clearly if you are able to train effectively with top 500 players then this isn't the case. Is it tactics based? Are you forming the right game plan to play against your opponents? Is it pressure and mental based?

The first step when you are losing matches is to focus on where the problem is. Usually in the case where training level is much higher than match level, the simple problem is that the focus is too much on drills and not enough on winning and executing match skills.

The first step I would take is to try and focus in on more non-fixed drills and match type drills and really try and get more of a sense of what goes well for you in matches. Making a more detailed record or diary/notes after each match could also help so you can see if there are patterns occurring in matches that you lose. If you are still having problems, always seek advice from your training partners and coaches as to their observations of your problems. A different perspective can often be helpful if you are willing to accept some criticisms.

Play More Matches

The best way to learn how to win matches is to play more matches. More exposure to match situations is important. You can also but punishments or prizes on the line to add pressure or start from half way 5-5 or 8-8 to add more pressure. This forces you to focus on the most efficient ways to win. You can also play handicap scoring matches, allowing the other player a point headstart i.e 4-0. When you are losing this is the best time to focus on cutting errors and finding the best ways tactically to win points. These are things which can really help sharpen your ability to execute well in matches.

Some Further Articles to Help

If the problem is to do with handling pressure, try reading this

If the problem is more skill based, this is a good place to start

Winning consistently against lower players

If anybody else has tips for improving match level, please don't hesitate to give more feedback. Thanks for the question Michael and I hope this helps a little.

Wednesday 11 February 2015

8 Simple Steps to Hit Peak Form for Major Events

One of the key skills of two greats of the sport, Jan-Ove Waldner and Zhang Jike, is their unique ability to hit their apex form at the most key major events in line with their biggest goals. On the international stage, the grand slam events form the biggest tournaments that players will aim to win; the World Championships, World Cup and Olympic Games. See more from my Coaching Blog.

These are qualities we should also aim to include in our own game, but often players find it difficult to hit their best form when it really counts. Of course it is not an easy skill to learn and sometimes it may not go to plan, but it is best to prepare to give yourself the best possible chance. So how can you plan to peak at major events and give yourself the best chance.

Legend of Table Tennis JO Waldner

Step 1: Identify the Events to Target.

First you need to set the most important events out in your goals. They need to be your biggest focus within a given year. For example in New Zealand we have the North Island Championships (2nd biggest tournament) in May and the New Zealand Open in October. In the USA there is the US Open in July and the US National Championships in December. These events are spread apart which allows a period to build to peak level.

Once you have identified your targets you can start breaking down your schedule to figure out how to work towards being in top form at the right time. This also involves working in smaller tournaments (short term goals work in here) to help with preparation.

Step 2: Arrange Training According to the Phase of the Season.

Each season begins and you should arrange your training to match. Your first priority should be to work on solidifying your basics and footwork, refocus back on the most basic and fundamental parts of your game. Here is when you should identify your strengths and weaknesses, this is very important.

Earlier in the season is a good time to really focus on the weaker areas of your game, you want to iron these out and try and make them as strong as possible.

Your 4 key fundamentals are; service, service receive, first attack and first block/defence.

Step 3: Start Reinforcing Strengths

Strengths are going to be your big point scorers, you need to fine-tune your best techniques and tactics for winning points. As you move towards your shorter term minor events these will be crucial in beginning to prepare your best match form.

Step 4: Matchplay

Once you start nearing smaller events which you will need to prepare the right kind of match scenarios for the major goal events, you need to bring the focus onto match practice.

This is the kind of practice which is pivotal for at least a month before heading into the tournament season. Drills without fixed patterns and drills starting from service become more important in your training sessions along with practice matches and mental and pressure-based practice games (i,e deuce matches or 8-8 games, handicap scoring etc.)

The fastest ever Grand Slam Champion, Zhang Jike.

Step 5: Minor Event Matches

Your small events usually encompass small goals, i.e you may wish to win events or perform well in small tournaments as part of your season or your build-up to the major events. These matches are important for your ongoing evaluation towards the majors.

At these events it is important to evaluate your performance and where your form level is. You can also identify where problems lay in matches whether it be with tactics, mental game, physical conditioning or techniques.

Step 6: Conditioning From Minor Events

The minor events should play a key role in your preparation. Whatever arises from your successes or failures in these events is where a large part of your focus should lie at this stage of the season. Why were you able to win matches? What restricted your success in matches? Were there particular styles you struggled against? What can be done to continue conditioning your game to reach your peak when it matters the most?

Step 7: First Major Peak

Usually it pays to aim for at least 2 peaks in a season, you will notice often players like Zhang Jike seem less concerned with some small events and more so with their performance at others. Everyone has a purpose in their season build-up for each event. After playing the first major event you need to identify whether your form is at a peak. Are you playing better now than at any other point so far during the season, is it table tennis you would identify as among your best? If so then you have achieved some success in the first major point of your season.

If you felt you were playing better in a minor event, perhaps your peak was too early. You need to identify your mistakes in the major event if you weren't able to perform to the level you wanted. Was the mental pressure more than you expected? Were you coming down from a peak already? Had you not reached your peak yet?

Step 8: Re-focus on Your Second Peak

Using the first build-up as your guide, make alterations that are necessary in order to achieve peak at the right time. You could use the opportunity to consult a coach or training partner for their advice. You really need to know why you weren't able to hit your best form at the right time and start the process again in the build-up to your next peak. Often you will find players take a short break or have less intensity before beginning their second build-up.

These may seem like obvious guideline but often players aren't specific enough with their training schedules and regimes. They go between tournaments trying their best to hit top form at each and every one, realistically this is very difficult to do and can hinder your ability to hit a strong peak at the most important times. It's very much like Tennis, we often saw Federer losing to Andy Murray and other players on the ATP World Tour, but he had an astonishing ability to peak for Grand Slam Events. This is an ability which distinguishes greats of sports from the large pools of other very good players. Hope this was helpful to some of you. Remember if you would like to submit a topic you can do so through my contact box or by sending me a message on my facebook page!