Tuesday 3 May 2016

Table Tennis Coaching's Dynamic Duo: Interview with Jeff and Alois (PingSkills)

PingSkills has become a household name online for creating quality content to help people of all levels to improve and develop their table tennis skills. The dynamic duo of Alois Rosario and Jeff Plumb have been providing knowledge, learning, humour and entertainment to the table tennis community. It was my privilege to interview these two outstanding gentlemen from down near my corner of the globe. Thanks to you both! :) Make sure you visit www.pingskills.com to see all their fantastic content and check them out on YouTube: Pingskills Channel.

You can check out more interviews with other top players, legends, coaches and stars of the sport at the Interview Page.

PingSkills Alois (left) and Jeff (right)
Tell us a little more about your table tennis playing/coaching careers. When and why you found interest in table tennis, most memorable moment etc.

Jeff: I became interested in table tennis when I was 12 years old. A friend of mine had a table and we played often after school. He suggested we go visit a table tennis club and we started playing in a handicap competition. I remember the first one I entered I played against an A grade player in a game up to 31. I started on 27 points and he started on -10. I ended up losing 31-29 only winning 2 points. I knew I had a lot to learn. I was lucky in that there was a good group of players at the club who were a couple of years older than me and I think that helped me to raise my level. We would all drive around the state together to play in tournaments. In 1989 at my first junior nationals I won the U/15 boys singles which surprised a lot of people and that performance earned me a position in the National Training Academy in Melbourne. When I was 18 I moved to Melbourne to attend University and train more.

My most memorable moment was playing doubles in front of a packed stadium in the Sydney Olympics. Brett Clarke and I were up against Timo Boll and Georg Rosskopf of Germany. The Germans were introduced over the loud speaker to complete silence. Then we were introduced and the cheer was enormous! I looked over to see Timo and Georg having a quiet chuckle to themselves. We then went out onto the table where they cleaned us up in straight sets! However in an earlier match we defeated a Cuban pair to become the first ever Australian Mens doubles team to win a match at the Olympics.

Alois: I started playing before I can remember, probably around 3 or 4. I used to go to Table Tennis with my Mum and watch her play. She was the Indian National singles champion in 1960 and still plays competitively in the Veterans competitions at the age of 84.

My first memories of Table Tennis were the feeling of hitting the ball up against the wall for hours and hours at home. The ball was mesmerising and I just couldn’t get enough of hitting. Whenever I was asked to stop, it was always “one more?” I then remember going down to the “old” Albert Park Table Tennis center in Melbourne for Saturday afternoon junior coaching. This was an inclusive group with lots of level of players. I remember my first coaching session there with a coach named John Laffin and he explained the concept of opening and closing the bat. My mother was one of the coaches in that group. There were also a lot of other influences in my interest in the game with coaches like Keith Keane who was ahead of his time with his methods of teaching… things like “listening to the ball” for timing. I still use some of his sayings to help me with my coaching.

I played in junior teams and junior national championships till 1980. It wasn’t till 1985 that I made my first State Senior team. Those years in between were testing but also interesting because it was the first time I had to battle to achieve results. It taught me a lot about how to learn.

I was then able to be selected in the National team between 1986 and 1991.

I started coaching after being asked to start a junior group of players in the mid 1980s at my club, Coburg. Over those years I enjoyed both playing and coaching. I was also asked to become the Development Officer for my State association which gave me a wide variety of experiences in coaching from working with absolute beginners at Primary or Elementary school level through to State Junior teams.

The highlight of playing was being selected in my first World Championships team in 1987 to play in India, the country I was born in.

The highlights of coaching are too hard to select. Just working with players that are willing to learn and then see them achieve what they have set out to do is even better than playing for me.

One of the first videos from Pingskills, 8 years ago!

What inspired you both to team up and create Pingskills?

Jeff: I’ve always been interested in developing websites and Alois is a great coach so it seemed like the perfect fit. We started with a really basic website and what really got things moving was when we filmed some pretty basic videos and put them up on YouTube. People instantly started liking the videos and left really positive comments which inspired us to keep going. I think people appreciate Alois’ constructive advice and ability to relate to players of all levels.

Alois: Jeff was the inspiration. He often had ideas of things we could do. This was just another one that he threw at me. I didn’t think much about it until one day he sent me a message and told me to have a look at the site he had started. He put together some Ask the Coach questions that he had made up himself and I answered them.

How long has PingSkills been helping players now? Does it get easier or more difficult to keep coming up with new topics and issues to cover?

Jeff: We started the site in 2007 and ever since we started filming videos we’ve had a long list of future videos. Most of the videos are inspired by questions from PingSkillers so it’s really the community that makes PingSkills such an interesting place to learn about table tennis.

Alois: We started this in 2007. I am surprised at how much content you can come up with. When we started I thought we will make about 10 or 20 videos at most and that is the extent of how much we will be able to help. To think that this has now reached more than 500 videos and still going is a bit mind blowing.

The inspiration comes from the viewers who always have questions that I would have never thought of and are always coming up with ways to refresh the content.

The highly popular Ask The Coach show from PingSkills
What do you find is the most common problem developing players come across when learning table tennis skills (in terms of people who contact you or you coach)?

Jeff: One word: spin! I can’t think of any other sport where one aspect of the game allows an 80 year old to beat a much younger opponent so easily.

Alois: I think the most difficult thing for players when starting out is how to deal with spin. It is something that is unique to Table Tennis. A lot of players that come to Table Tennis from other sports that feel like they have some pretty good skills always get stumped by spin. For a player going down to a club for the first time this is the thing that really baffles them.

The other thing is remaining relaxed while playing, especially in their shoulders. This leads to difficulty in being able to execute their strokes.

What do you think is the biggest barrier which prevents people from improving into solid, well rounded players?

Jeff: I think the biggest barrier is often a lack of players to train with. I was fortunate in that Australia had a full time coach when I was developing and a core group of players who trained everyday. Table tennis is a difficult game and it takes a lot of practice to become good!

Alois: Perseverance. To be a good player you have to have the ability to put in a lot of hours and often doing repetitive drills. This isn’t all that exciting at times but the players that succeed are those that enjoy doing this and are obsessive.

The most popular PingSkills YouTube video on reverse pendulum serve

What do you believe is the most overlooked skill in table tennis development?

Jeff: Video analysis. With technology nowadays it’s so easy to film yourself and then see what is working well for you and what you need to work on. People’s perception of what they are doing and what they are actually doing are often a long way apart.

Alois: The short push and general short touch shots. A lot of players like to train the big shots, the topspin to topspin and smashing. However, it is difficult to get to that part of the game against a good player if you don’t have the ability to keep the ball short and stop them from playing a strong shot at you first.

What would you consider to be the biggest difference between your average hard training player and an international superstar?

Jeff: I really enjoyed reading Bounce by Matthew Syed, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, and The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. These books argue that talent is made not born. Although I enjoyed the books I can’t agree 100%. When you watch young players learning table tennis (or any skill for that matter) you can tell quickly who is more talented and who will improve more quickly. Talent certainly plays a part but it’s not enough on it’s own. You need talent and hard work.

Alois: There needs to be some initial ability… ‘natural talent’ and then the ability to train consistently for a lot of years.

The next thing is the mental ability to play well under pressure and in bigger points and bigger matches.

You also need to be born into a situation where you have a good playing level around you from a young age. Being in that atmosphere and having the ability to experience good quality play around you build up good images and experiences in your mind that help with your development.

You have amassed over 30 million views across over 500 videos on Youtube now. Looking back which is your favourite video so far? 

Jeff: From a pure entertainment value it has to be “Is laughter infectious?”

My favourite video in terms of quality is the forehand flick. When I compare this video to our first videos I’m really proud of how much we’ve improved in terms of presentation and editing

You can find the video here: https://www.pingskills.com/table-tennis/strokes-and-technique/forehand-flick/

Alois: Definitely the Omonoiadem Hagivasiliou video… It still makes me laugh, to the point of crying, every time I watch it. (Is Laughter Infectious, see above)

Who are your favourite 3 players to watch and why?

Waldner – he seems to know where the ball is going before the other player even hits the ball.
Wang Hao – I love his reverse penhold backhand which looks just like a shakehand backhand.

Ma Long – Has there ever been a more complete player?

Waldner of course… His seeming ability to do anything off any ball. The amount of time he has and his creativity.

Samsonov – The smoothness of his strokes. Again, it seems like he has a lot of time to play the ball.

Erik Lindh – His half volleying and being a left hander.

What do you think is the single biggest issue facing the sport today?

Jeff: I think the sport has a bright future. The biggest challenge is standing out from all the other sports that are popular. I think that the ITTF is doing a great job with itTV and social media which will pay dividends in the long run.

Alois: Promotion and attracting more money into the sport and with it TV or or other media coverage. The sport itself is fantastic. The ITTF have taken a lot of big steps forward through the work of people like Steve Dainton and Matt Pound. To attract the best athletes to Table Tennis there needs to be money in the sport at the highest level so that heroes are created in the larger community.

This in turn makes the players more known to the general public. The experience of watching any sport in heightened when you know the players or you know about the players to a personal level. Without it, any sport is pretty boring to watch. We are starting to get the picture behind the players now which is improving the viewing experience.

Jeff at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games

Your Best Tip:

Jeff: Don’t give up too early! Table tennis takes a long time to become good and progress is not linear. You never know when you are just around the corner from a big leap forward with your skills.

How to Read Service Spin:

Jeff: Watch the ball really closely. If you do this you’ll pick up the contact of the bat and be able to tell what spin is imparted on the ball. Do this 1,000s of times.

Alois: Watch the contact and remember they can only spin the ball one way with any single serve.

How to Block Heavy Spin:

Jeff: Don’t panic, stay relaxed.

Alois: Hit flat through the ball with sharp contact

How to Deal with an Aggressive Opponent:

Jeff: Stay focused and become really determined. Win every point. It’s hard for your opponent to be aggressive when they aren’t winning many points.

Alois: Stay calm and focus on the ball

Pick Your Preference:

Close Table or Further Back?
Jeff: Further back
Alois: Close

Power or Placement?
Jeff: Placement
Alois: Placement

Spin or Speed? 
Jeff: Spin
Alois: Spin...not used enough today

Backspin Serve or Topspin Serve?
Jeff: Backspin serve
Alois: Backspin - Can build a game around 3rd ball topspin

Soft Sponge or Hard Sponge?
Jeff: Soft sponge
Alois: Soft

Technical or Tactical?
Jeff: Tactical
Alois: Technical

Crosscourt or Down the Line?
Jeff: Crosscourt
Alois: Down the Line

Forehand or Backhand?
Jeff: Forehand
Alois: Forehand (I had no backhand)

Some Receiving Options from PingSkills

Create Your Perfect Player using Elements of Other players (from any era or gender):

Serve: Ma Lin
Forehand Loop: Ma Long

Backhand Loop: Wang Hao
Block: Samsonov
Lob: Waldner
Footwork: Xu Xin
Smash: Ma Long
Serve Receive: Waldner
Tactics: Waldner

Attitude: Persson

Serve: Waldner
Forehand Loop: Kim Taek Soo
Backhand Loop: Kreanga
Block: Waldner
Lob: Applegren (OK, I am living in the past)
Footwork: Xu Xin
Smash: Kjell Johannson
Serve Receive: Ma Wenge
Tactics: Schlager

Attitude: Samsonov

Thank you again both, for an outstanding interview and for many years of help and support for developing table tennis players. We all hope to see much more content from you in years to come!

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