Coaching Tip: Practicing Serves the Productive Way

larry-gregIt’s almost a cliché. I hand someone a box of balls to practice their serves. They grab a ball and serve, grab a ball and serve, grab a ball and serve, and so on, all done with the speed and thoughtfulness of firing a machine gun. Then they wonder why their serves aren’t any good. There’s a lot more to developing great serves than rapid-fire serve practice, where the goal seems to be to empty the box of balls as rapidly as possible. So what should you do differently?

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Coaching Tip: Playing the Seemiller or American Grip


This grip was named for and popularized by five-time U.S. Men’s Singles Champion Dan Seemiller, who was ranked in the top thirty in the world in the late 1970s. He was followed by Eric Boggan, who reached top twenty in the world. No other U.S.-trained player has come close to these rankings in the sponge era (since the 1950s). Four of the five U.S. team members at the 1983 World Championships used this grip – Dan Seemiller, his brother Rick Seemiller, Eric Boggan, and 1983 Pan Am Men’s Singles Gold Medalist Brian Masters. (All four are in the U.S. Table Tennis Hall of Fame.) The grip is sometimes called the American grip, but is more commonly called the Seemiller grip.

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Coaching Tip: Maximum Power and Control


How do you get maximum power on your shots? Many players at the beginning/intermediate levels might say “swing hard!” But that’s the worst thing you can do. Until your muscles are trained properly, swinging hard means spastically using a few muscles but not all of them. It also means putting less weight into the shot. Both cases result in either wimpy shots that any well-trained kid would laugh at, or sometimes powerful shots with no control.

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Coaching Tip: Three Parts to a Swing


Backswing, forward swing . . . backswing, forward swing . . . backswing, forward swing . . . when hitting forehand to forehand or backhand to backhand, how many of you get into this pattern, whether hitting or looping? The problem is you are doing something you should never do in a match, so why would you want to practice it? There are three parts to a swing: Backswing, forward swing, and the often forgotten return to ready position. A player would almost never go directly from his follow through to backswinging.

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Coaching Tip: Do Something Different

These days it seems like everyone’s trying to be like everyone else. That’s a pretty successful way of getting good, if you copy the top players. But many are missing the benefits of doing something different. Give your opponent a different look, at least on some shots, and guess what? He might begin to struggle. This doesn’t mean changing your whole game to some unorthodox mess; it means developing certain “pet shots” that are different than the norm. They give you more variation on certain shots than if you only have “orthodox” shots.

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Coaching Tip: Returning Hidden and Other Tricky Spin Serves

What can a player do if he is having trouble reading the spin on the opponent’s serve? At the lower levels, this usually means the opponent’s serving motion is too quick for the player to pick up contact. At the higher levels, it’s often because the opponent is hiding his serve, a serious problem since many umpires do not enforce the serving rules and allow players to illegally hide contact, making it difficult to read the spin on the ball. However, the techniques for returning these hidden serves are essentially the same for those at lower levels who struggle to read the spin off any serve. So what can you do when you have trouble reading the spin, whether against a good server or against an illegally hidden one?

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