Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Shenzhen Ping Pong: adding footwork to the drills

In table tennis, mobility is critical in games. Being able to move means one can take the initiative to attack and put your opponent under pressure. Being able to move also increases your options in terms of shot selection. Finally, being able to move means being able to hit the ball correctly and consistently when the incoming ball is not perfectly placed.

Therefore acquiring decent footwork is of extreme importance.

Ingraining a new stroke into muscle memory begins with drills (isolating that specific stroke) from a stable but static position, e.g. the backhand can be initially developed by hitting only backhands from a known, fixed position.

One can progress from there to integrate the new stroke with others. For example, my previous blog entry (see here) explores a drill for alternating the reverse penhold backhand stroke with the forehand.

A third step (and the topic of this blog entry) would be to throw in footwork into the mix as well. This puts additional pressure on proper stroke execution. Not only do you need to be able to execute the same stroke as in the static drills, but proper setup and recovery (in terms of feet and body position) are additional burdens that you need to tackle and successfully execute. And since errors will compound, these drills are especially demanding.

Let's begin with a two-one backhand/forehand drill. As the diagram indicates, this is a sequence of three strokes, two to the backhand side and one to the forehand. On the backhand side, first ball should to be taken with the reverse penhold backhand, the second with the forehand after stepping aside. Then move to the forehand side to take the third ball. Finally, you must make the return quickly to take the first ball of the next sequence with your backhand. (This version of the drill is also known as the Falkenburg Drill: thanks Kitt!)

Obviously, the additional degree of difficulty over the previous drill comes from the footwork required. (If you revisit the previous blog entry and look at my feet, you'll notice it's possible - but not necessarily optimal - to do the one ball to each side drill with very minimal footwork.)

Let's go to the video: (Direct link here.)

Hmm, my form is not great. I will expand this blog post when I have better videos and show variations on the drill...

Double Happiness practice balls:

(You need to find a practice partner who can direct his block reasonably accurately to both sides, at least initially until you get really good at the drill. I thank my friend Hideya Watanabe here for doing an admirable job.)