Stellan Bengtsson, Observations on the Status of US Coaching

Table tennis coaching in the U.S. doesn’t look like anything else in the world. In all the other countries I have worked in, the National teams practice together and help each other improve. This isn’t the case in America. The National coaches have very little hands-on time to train the players directly. The teams rarely have joint training sessions where the players can challenge each other and work together.

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Coaching Tip: How to Play and Practice with Weaker Players

In some table tennis club in Lake Wobegone, all the players are above average and you never play a weaker player. But the rest of us have to make do playing and practicing with whoever is at our club. And often that means playing and practicing with weaker players.

Some recoil at the idea. It’s almost a mantra for many to say, “I want to play stronger players.” And it helps tremendously to play stronger players if you want to improve rapidly. But you also need to play matches with weaker players, and you can get good practice with them as well. Here’s why.

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Coaching Tip: Chalk Up Wins with Chop Blocks

What is a chop block? It is a block with backspin. Since long pips and (usually) hardbat automatically returns topspin as backspin, it is the norm for those surfaces. But with inverted (as well short pips to a lesser degree), a topspin ball is normally catapulted back with some topspin.

But what if the inverted blocker were to chop down on the ball at contact, thereby returning the incoming topspin as backspin? That is a chop block, and it can cause havoc with an opponent’s timing.

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Coaching Tip: Reverse Forehand Pendulum Serve

The most popular serve in table tennis is the forehand pendulum serve. (Here’s nine minutes of 2004 Olympic Champion Ryu Seung Min doing them, much of it in slow motion.) With this serve, the racket tip is down as you contact the ball with a right-to-left motion (for righties). And it’s a great serve – but it can be even more effective if you can vary it with the reverse pendulum serve variation.

The most under-used serve in table tennis is the forehand reverse pendulum serve. This is the reverse of the normal forehand pendulum serve, with the racket moving left-to-right at contact. It seems awkward at first, but is surprisingly easy to learn.

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Coaching Tip: Where to Place Your Spin Serves

While you should vary your spin serves to all parts of the table – at least until you find out what gives your opponent trouble and what doesn’t – there are certain spin serves that are generally more effective when done to specific parts of the table.

The main principle to remember is that, in general, opponents will have more trouble returning a serve that spins away from them than one that spins into them. For example, when a righty serves a forehand pendulum serve to another righty (so that the ball breaks to the server’s right, the receiver’s left), if the ball is served to the wide backhand, the ball spins away from the receiver, and is usually harder to receive than the same serve to the forehand, where it breaks into the receiver. Similarly, a backhand or tomahawk serve to the forehand is generally more difficult to receive than one to the backhand, since it also breaks away from the receiver (to the server’s left, the receiver’s right). There are three reasons for this.

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Coaching Tip: 2-2-1 Placement Rule

Where do most players block best? On the backhand. Where do most players attack the most? To the opponent’s backhand. This never made sense to me.

When attacking there are three places you should normally go for: the wide forehand, the middle (the opponent’s crossover point between forehand and backhand, usually around the elbow), and the wide backhand. Most beginning and intermediate players probably attack to the backhand twice as often as to the forehand, and almost never to the middle. We’ll call it the 1-0-2 rule, i.e. they proportionatly go once to the forehand, zero times to the middle, and twice to the backhand.

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