Saturday, February 4, 2012

A lesson with Crystal Huang: two left feet

This is the third entry in my continuing series about learning table tennis technique with Crystal Huang, a professional table tennis coach. These video clips were taken at the LATTA last weekend. (Previous entries can be accessed here: #2 too many degrees of freedom and #1 structural reform.)

Have you ever had the experience of attending an aerobics class at the local gym but came away discouraged, feeling utterly unable to follow the moves? If you understand what I'm referring to, you might empathize with me. If not, I envy your natural talent.

The video here will demonstrate that I am a particularly embarrassing example of two left feet. Since footwork is paramount in table tennis, this is a very big developmental challenge: a potential showstopper. In fact, it will become apparent that I can't even figure out a simple two point five step move even when it is repeatedly demonstrated right in front of me. Thank goodness for computer software, only when I viewed it frame by frame did the proverbial lightbulb go off in my head.

The specific challenge here is to move in correctly when the ball is played short to the forehand. Generally speaking, we have about 1/3 of a second to respond appropriately. Proper footwork is essential to getting in close enough to execute a decent flip, smash or push stroke over the table. Possessing a good stroke is useless without the necessary accompanying footwork. Rather like being all ready to ski without an appropriate vehicle to get you up the slippery snow-covered roads to that mountain that looks so good in the distance. Not sure that's the best analogy but, in table tennis, speedy footwork is needed to deliver us in about 2/10ths of a second close to where the ball bounces while retaining good body balance. And proper balance is needed to support good stroke execution and facilitate recovery.

Because this is all about movement, let's go to the video directly. We begin with the following drill:

Here the instructor stands at the top right corner of the diagram. The ball is blocked randomly to my backhand and forehand. I'm having trouble getting close to the forehand ball, especially when it bounces short near the net.

I have taken the liberty of adding commentary and translation where appropriate so you can follow Crystal Huang's instructional style. (For those who prefer to skip forwards, minutes 8:19-9:26 is where I'm utilizing the footwork in point play.) Also, since the video is a bit long, you might want to click on the "I" icon and set the resolution to 360p for a faster download.

Link: here

As should be clear from the video, my clumsiness resulted from my lack of understanding of how to perform the step, stop, step sequence. That is because I didn't understand what was really happening in real time. For those as translationally challenged as me, let me offer the following frame-by-frame explication. Thank goodness for video editing software.








(A) is the starting position.

In (B), body weight is shifted to the right.

This unweighs the left foot, which allows it to move towards the right foot, as shown in (C).

You can then stand on the left foot in its new position, and unweigh the right foot. This is shown in (D).

Then it's just a matter of picking up the right foot and placing it in under the table. This is exhibited by the sequence (E) through (G).

Notice the racquet arm does not move until (F) and (G). In other words, you don't backswing first and move later.

At (G), the weight is transferred to the right foot. Next, we need to lean the upper body over for reach when the ball lands short or close to the net. The left foot may go back a bit to counterbalance the torso lean. The free arm is often also used for this purpose.

Finally, one more critical point that may not be immediately apparent to some ping pong students is the fundamental idea to always pause momentarily and re-balance first after moving before hitting the ball. In this case, this would be just after the lean over from (G). That slight pause for balance makes all the difference in the world in making the push or flip stroke crispy (my terminology), i.e. much more effective.

If you need it, here is the video version of the frame sequence:

Link: here

1 comment:

  1. Too good to be able to see this. I am also a penholder. I made the same mistakes as you too. Now that I see this video and the detail instruction, I will try to correct myself. It looks easy but actually is not because it involved many parts of the body working together as well as timing problem.
    I saw you concentrate mostly on your right foot stepping into the table but you forgot your left foot has to move a bit closer too, as a matter of fact, your left foot has to be in place before your right foot extends into under the table. Otherwise, you will be forced to lean your body too much to reach the short ball. Also, do not swing your right arm too much to the back because this is not a loop or smash.
    Thanks for sharing. I will see if I can do that, yeah, it is easy to say, doing it is another thing.