Sep 21

The Next Step Available on Amazon!

Just got an email from Amazon that the electronic version of the book has been published. Those of you who prefer a paperback, it will likely following in a few weeks.

 

 

Thanks again to everyone who has helped me make it happen!

Permanent link to this article: http://www.breaking2000.com/the-next-step-available-on-amazon/

Sep 20

Working out with a Return Board

When I was just starting out to play table tennis, I saw advertisements on the web for a return board. The videos were recorded by a European return board vendor who displayed the training exercises executed by many players. This is when I decided to build my own return board. I bought up the materials and put it together. I love working with my hands and build anything out of wood pretty easily. It was one of those very pleasant and rewarding projects.

The boards I built back then were quite small, but this summer, I finally built a large return board for my students to use. I currently train two brothers, so when I work out with one kid, his brother has a chance to hit with the board. Then they switch. They are beginners, but the return board is able to give them a type of a return shot they can work with.

I took the following video at the club one day to show the return board and what routines someone can set up on it. I’ve included other return board training videos that may be interest you. Yet, before you go off and watch the video, however, I want to describe the type of training someone can do with the board and how it is best utilized.

1. The board does not adjust to the incoming shot, so when you produce your own shots, you have to feed a right amount of power and spin into the ball, so the ball can come back. If not enough of either element is produced on the shot – the ball will either drop into the net, or fly off. So return board is an excellent tool for reaching consistent control. As long as you produce the same amount of speed and spin on the shot, the ball will keep coming back.

2. The board does wonders teaching how to handle your own shot. Most beginner and intermediate players hit the ball too hard or spin too hard. These shots require more force and hence more body movement. The strokes for these shots are large and as with all large strokes, the player who gets a quick return off a fast ball produced with a large stroke cannot recover fast enough to return the next shot. So the exercise with the return board works on reducing the stroke to be quick and also works to fix player’s readiness and ready position on subsequent shots.

3. Footwork. Yes, the board is excellent for that. Very small angle changes send the ball wide, low, and deep. Its important to move to be able to return the next shot.

4. Timing. The board works oddly with the spin. It absorbs it quite neatly because the board is not stiff, its frame is still, but its on a relatively soft backboard so when the ball hits the return board it comes back with good spin and soft “touch”. This makes the next ball low and spiny, which works great to work on the timing. Since the ball is low, you’ll have to learn to wait for the ball. Trying to hit it too early or too late will be a lot harder ( if at all possible ).

5. Immediate indicator of what went wrong. When learning technique, it is hard for beginners and intermediate players to tell which part of the stroke broke down and led to a mistake. With the board, its a lot easier to tell because it does not have good fault tolerance. If not enough spin or speed is produced, the ball will die. If you were unable to make your shot, you either hit the ball too hard, didn’t move properly to where the ball will go after the return, or took the ball too early or too late.

Comparing the return board with the robot, they are different tools for practice. Robot produces the same shot in terms of spin, speed, and placement (unless programmed to avoid it) so the player can learn repetitive technique against an identical ball. Return board produces a shot that is directly related to your shot, hence teaching you the “anticipation” of the next ball.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.breaking2000.com/working-out-with-a-return-board/

Sep 17

Unveiling my new book – “The Next Step”

book-cover-R3

Time has finally arrived for me to make a public announcement. I would like to introduce my new book, which I titled “The Next Step”.

What is this book about, well, this time around this book is not about me at all. Its not breaking anything. I have side tracked in the “breaking” department quite a bit over the past few years. Priorities have changed. Nevertheless, the passion for table tennis remains. The best way to describe this book is that it is a much deeper book on player’s strategic development.

This book provides detailed insights on four essential parts of the game – technique, strategy, tactics, and the mental game. The aim of this book is to create a different type of an artifact and go beyond common basics.The goal is to describe numerous principles of table tennis and to show how to apply vast amount of table tennis knowledge to construct player’s most effective game using the skills that the player has already mastered as well as to describe many other skills that the player may choose to develop to take the next step onto higher levels.

While the book has not yet made it to the electronic shelves of Amazon, it should be available in the end of the month. In the meantime, I would like to present the book cover and extend a special thank you to everyone who has helped me continue my table tennis learning adventure as well as everyone who has influenced me to create this new artifact.

 

Thanks to my wife for taking care of my baby girl and allowing me to focus on publishing this book. (I wonder if she will ever discover this post :) )

Thanks to my coach Gerald Reid and training partners Alex (Fangyi) Liu, Mika Bey, Ronnie Cruz, and Ilya Ovrutsky for your ongoing effort to push me further.

Special thank you goes to two-time U.S. Table Tennis Olympian Sean O’Neill and a team of table tennis enthusiasts from MyTableTennis.Net forum for reviewing the original book manuscript and providing invaluable feedback:
Baal
Beeray1
Fatt
Haggisv
Imago
Mhnh007
Rahul_TT
Ripag
Roundrobin
Slevin
Speedplay
ZApenholder

And finally, another special thank you goes to Zoran Stefanovski for taking ideas for a book cover and bringing them to life.

 

Without all of these wonderful people around me, this book would not have seen the light. Thanks again!

Alex

Permanent link to this article: http://www.breaking2000.com/unveiling-my-new-book-the-next-step/

Sep 12

Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers

Larry Hodges published his book “Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers” a few months ago and while I knew about it existence, I only now have found the time to read it. I wanted to wait to read it because my new book (which is planned to come out in a month or so) also has a section covering tactics. I wanted to document my thoughts first, before I get influenced by Larry’s thoughts. It also seemed like a cool idea to compare notes with his material. So now that I have read it cover to cover, I am glad to share my thoughts on it.

Larry definitely produced a great collection of material on tactics. It would have been great to have this book in my possession a few years back when I was just beginning to scrape the surface of our wonderful game. Unfortunately, Larry has been teasing about his new masterpiece for quite some time on his blog www.tabletenniscoaching.com without actually releasing it. Yet, I’m glad that it is out now.

This book talks about tactics a player can utilize in a generic way, and against different styles. It also provides many examples that explain when a given stroke should be used and how. Having learned tactics throughout my journey I was not surprised by the information. Most of it is acquired through experience. Generally, the more experienced the player, the deeper is his tactical understanding. The good part is the fact that you can now refer to the material yourself or refer other players to a specific chapter for an easy in-depth explanation that covers all sorts of combinations. Experience wise, Larry has decades of it both in terms of playing and coaching. So he definitely has a lot to share.

As I have mentioned before, the information in the book is vast and remembering it all will be hard to do. So I would warn that players should not read it to remember it. Its important to read the book to understand it! This is the purpose of the book. To give just enough knowledge so that the player can come up with his own ideas on what the player should do next, or what tactic a given opportunity presents.

What did I like the most in the book? Well, for me, I found Larry’s stories of his coaching experience within a match invaluable. There are many times when you play someone and think you’re doing great, until bam, the opponent’s coach gives his player some advice and nothing goes your way anymore. I always wanted to find out – what did the coach tell him that the tempo of the match totally changed. In this regards, Larry provides incredible amounts of information on coaching his students to victory.

Larry’s book might be a simple novelty item for professional players, but that is only because the pros are already familiar with the topics in the book. But for mere mortal amateurs like myself, beginner, intermediate and advance players alike, this book is surely a must have.

 

Here are some other books written by Larry:

Permanent link to this article: http://www.breaking2000.com/table-tennis-tactics-for-thinkers/

Jul 16

Learning from World Class – Sas Lasan and Bojan Tokic

I’ve really got lucky this time around. One day I get this email about an upcoming table tennis training camp. I usually just browse through those emails and ignore, but this time around something very intriguing stood out in the email – one of the coaches was going to be none other than Bojan Tokic.

Immediately I jumped on the opportunity. Spoke with my wife, got approval for a week of vacation time at work and off I went all the way down to Duluth GA. Nice 12 hour ride down and there I was, standing in front of Shigang Yang’s Table Tennis Academy.

For those that do not follow table tennis the name Bojan Tokic does not ring the bell. But for those crazy fanatics of the sport such as myself, the name was an immediate recognition. Bojan Tokic is Slovenia’s #1. His most impressive performances for me are his matches against Ma Long, Dimitrij Ovtcharov, Ryu Seung Min, Kalinikos Kreanga, and many others. In 2012 he reached his highest rank of 25th in the world. He is also one of my favorite players because of his backhand’s dynamic attacking style. I always felt that I could learn a lot from him because I like to use my backhand as well. Certainly, I could not pass the opportunity to meet him and train with him.

What some may not realize is that US table tennis offers way too little prize money for ITTF events held at home, so very few international high level players show up. Some are regulars, like a Joola Team attending Baltimore Team’s Championships every year, which I had a pleasure of seeing in action sitting on a front row of the 2012 Baltimore Team Finals and watching Daniel Habesohn, Chen Weixing, and Liu Song. However, these players generally come over to play. Teaching and training is an absolutely different story. A chance for someone to train with Bojan Tokic for a week even in a junior training camp, as I found out, was a priceless experience, but this was only my initial reaction. What I did not know at the time was that I would be surprised even more by Bojan’s team mate and a friend Sas Lasan, who is Slovenia’s #2.

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I’m standing between two of my Slovenian Table Tennis Heroes Sas Lasan and Bojan Tokic

 

The camp was an absolutely fantastic time for me. I finally had a chance to train full time, if only for a week, but it did feel great. I have never attended a training camp before. I have to be honest that my understanding of camps and at least some camps I have heard about and seen some of the training did not impress me much. Most camps are tailored towards youngsters. I really wanted to get more personal time with the coaches and a lot more insightful discussions and details rather than mere multi-ball and physical exercises. Hitting the ball hard does not impress me, what impresses me is the very insights that world class players can share regarding their own game, their training, their aspirations, views on life, sport, and frankly, like any heroes we always imagine, we would like to understand them better. I’m glad to say that I found all of that and more during the camp. At 33, I still was the oldest player at the training camp ( one year older than Bojan ), but this did not change the fantastic experience.

So, what can I share about the camp? Well, first, the toughest day is day 1. I arrived a day early and had a good enough rest, but I don’t play much lately, so physically, the first day was the worst. After day 1 and the training that consisted of various drills and a lengthy multi-ball session I was simply beat. Yet, even totally exhausted, I signed up to get an hour long private lesson with Sas Lasan. I left the training hall barely functional. Every part of my body ached and the next morning, getting up at 7:30 to make it to the training facility at 9 was extremely hard. Seems that every muscle and joint was saying – “don’t go.”

When I got to the training hall, I took the warm up much more seriously than the rest of the kids. I needed to warm up every single thing in order to proceed. The funny part is that by lunch time, my body felt better and the last exercises prior to the end of the day were not straining me. I had another private lesson with Sas and felt my body recovering quite a bit. Following days, the hardest task was not the physical exhaustion, but mental. It was difficult at times to keep the focus on the ball by the end of the three hour training session. We had two of such training session per day.

What kind of training the camp was offering? This was a combination of many different elements. First day was very much an evaluation of technique. While we were all working on the basic strokes, the coaches were aiming their attention to improve some of the technical elements that may have been inefficient or simply wrong. The coaches were gauging our abilities. The second part of the first day was multi-ball designed around footwork movement and basic shots – attack of underspin ball, attack of topspin ball, and forehand flick of a short ball. The balls were fed quite quickly in comparison with other multi-ball sessions I’ve had in the past. So was the distance between placement of the ball in a multi-ball. Some shots were very far from each other. Frankly, I felt that I was out of place during these exercises, but I feel that they did help me improve the speed of my movements.  On Tuesday, the training was very similar to Monday, but it was filled with a lot of different variations of the drills. Backhand-Forehand, Backhand-Backhand-Forehand-Forehand, Backhand-Middle-Backhand-Forehand, and many others. The end of the day was again a multi-ball session followed by a half hour match play called king of the table.

The king of the table match play is something I have never seen before. The players are lined up on 5-6 tables. They play a single game to 11 points. The winner moved to a table up, the loser moves to a table down. This is a very difficult training exercise designed to challenge the focus. I failed this one quite a bit, losing many matches by not being able to quickly adjust to a new opponent. It is, however, after speaking with Bojan and Sas a quite common exercise even at the professional level. Sas said that some coaches even pull players down on purpose if they see them not concentrating enough or being too lenient to score their points. Some coaches even state handicaps for these drills so that the better players try to remain focused through this type of training.

The next 3 days were extensions of more drills, but much more refined multiball combinations. On Thursday and Friday, half a day was spent playing full best 3 out of 5 matches. By this time, however, most players were quite tired, so the matches became much tougher.

Snapshot 2

In addition to the camp training, I was able to train with Sas Lasan for one hour each day in a form of a private lesson. I will post some of the videos of my training soon. Sas plays modern defense, but with heavy twiddling and attacks from each side. His backhand attacks are very strong and I’d say quite prominent. Since I was not familiar with Sas’s game prior to meeting him, I looked up his matches on YouTube and there are some incredible points he has scored against some of the very top players, especially with his backhand! He ranks in world top 150 players. Being a defender I felt he could give me a lot more variation of shots for my training. I was correct. Sas is not only a great player, but I feel he is a great coach. He is patient, direct, and very knowledgeable and insightful. He has an inspiring tone and certainly lets you know when you are doing well and when you need to try harder.

Snapshot 1 (7-17-2013 12-19 AM)

One of the days when the kids were working on their doubles play, I asked to be dismissed from doubles training. I don’t play much doubles and frankly do not really enjoy it. Instead, I got a chance to work out with Bojan for about an hour. Prior, Bojan was teaching groups of 4-5 people ( including myself ) in multi-ball and other exercises, but this was my experience in a direct one on one training. He was very patient with my mistakes. I’ve made quite a few, or should I say one persistent one. He did offer various exercises to help me correct my movements and make them more efficient. His insight and suggestions are certainly invaluable for an attacking player. Besides, it I had a chance to truly feel some world class shots and serves on my paddle. I am glad to say that these shots and serves were very fast, strong, and tough. Yet, they were not impossible to handle, especially with a proper technique, which each player must continue to develop. When Bojan made corrections to some techniques, it became easier to handle his seemingly stronger shots. How strong they were on his ability scale, I truly do not know, since some shots he took were so fast, I didn’t see the ball, let alone had a chance to react. :)

This camp was truly once in a lifetime experience for me. But, there are more things that I was lucky to experience. Sas, Bojan, his girlfriend Monika Molnar ( also a table tennis player ranked in world 150’s), and myself went out one evening to dinner. For world class players, with matches broadcasted all over the world with the internet, each of them has a celebrity status for me. But in person, they are really down to earth. That evening I had a chance to hang out with them as friends and glad to say that we’ve connected very well. So well, that the next day, I was gifted my own personal Tibhar Slovenija National Team Shirt! I promised to make this shirt my finals shirt – I will wear it for my final matches!

I would like to finish this post with a simple Thank You! Thanks to Bojan, Sas, Monika, and Alex. Thank you for a great experience! Thank you for teaching and sharing!

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Shigang ( Alex ) Yang – United States Junior National Team Head Coach
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A gift from my Slovenian Table Tennis Heroes – my very own Tibhar Slovenian National Shirt
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Here are some videos of Exhibition Games played by Sas Lasan and Bojan Tokic against Yang’s Table Tennis Academy coaches at the training camp.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://www.breaking2000.com/learning-from-world-class-sas-lasan-and-bojan-tokic/

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