USATT Super Camp - Day Two - by Larry Hodges
How do you spell exhaustion? U-S-A-T-T-S-U-P-E-R-C-A-M-P! No, not exhausted kids - how about us older coaches trying to keep up with these energized looping machines? Yes, they get tired during training, especially the physical training, but minutes later they are bouncing around like hungry Tasmanian Devils. (They never stop moving and eating. Even during breaks they are hitting with mini-paddles; playing doubles; lobbing to each other; or dragging me onto the table to challenge me where I chop and pick hit with a clipboard.)
The physical training may be the most important aspect of the camp, which is taking place July 11-24 at the Lily Yip TTC in New Jersey, with 27 of the top juniors from around the country taking part. Compared to overseas players, top U.S. players and juniors are way behind in physical training. The stuff we’re doing here is new to nearly all U.S. juniors; it’s routine overseas. The Chinese players and coaches all say this is standard, and are always surprised top U.S. juniors don’t also do it regularly.
But the camp is also about other things. Along with the physical training, perhaps the other camp pillar is developing USA Team unity. Overseas, players train as part of a team, and the best countries are focused on beating the other top countries. Yes, they also want to be the best themselves, but they train and compete as a team, whether it’s the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Germans, or past great countries like Sweden and Hungary.
But in the U.S. it’s mostly individual players or clubs competing against other players and clubs. We need our players to train and compete as a team, working together to reach the top. That means often getting them together where they train and compete together, each pushing the others to be better, both in the camp and year round. It also means having USA National coaches look at the players - i.e. a different perspective - and make suggestions to the players’ coaches on things they can do to improve - not to supersede those coaches, but to work together with them to bring their players to their maximum potential, and thereby Team USA as well. Changing the culture of table tennis in the U.S. in these ways are key ingredients to bringing Team USA to the next level, and are perhaps the biggest focus of USATT High Performance Director Cory Eider.
To be specific, the actual listed camp goals are the following - with elaboration on each of these points:
Create “Team USA” spirit;
Send all players home with an “Action Plan”;
Education of the importance of physical fitness training;
Evaluation of all participants both technically and during competition;
Improvement of serve and serve return;
Improvement of first 5 balls;
Many of us have been to table tennis camps, and this camp is not attempting to take away from other camps. But there are a few key things that make this camp different from most. Since all these players are aiming to be the best, they have to understand what it takes to be the best. That means not just doing drills, but understanding the purpose of each drill, and how it will help them move to a higher level. So before all drills the players are called together so we can explain the drill and its purpose, and what they should be focusing on when they do it. Similarly, after practice matches the coaches often meet with the players to discuss the tactics in the match - what worked, what didn’t, and what they need to work on to improve.
Physical training was once again from 9:30-11:00 AM at a local quarter mile track. Samson Dubina and Richard McAfee led the training, with Cory Eider, Wang Qing Liang, Han Xiao, and me assisting. We started with three laps, and then stretching. Then they were divided into two groups by age and size. One group went first to Richard to work with the medicine balls and bands. The other group went to Samson to work on planks. Most of the exercises were done for 30 seconds, three to four times each.
The medicine balls came in four, six, and eight-pound types, about 8-9” wide. They did four exercises with them.
“Side-to-Side,” where they swung the balls side to side in a circle, so the balls went way to their left and behind them, and then way to their right and behind them.
“Over head,” where they swung the balls over their heads, also side-to-side.
“Chopping Wood,” where they swung the balls down between their legs, and then back up again.
“Circles,” where they sat on the ground and twisted to the right, putting the ball behind them - and then twisted to the left so they could grab the ball and bring it around their body to their right again, so the ball circled their body. Then they did the same thing in the opposite direction.
There were three band exercises. (The bands are strips of stretchy rubber.)
The first was simple arm curls, where they held one end of the bands on the ground with their foot, and did curls with each arm.
Then came the triceps pull, where a partner held the band behind them and they pulled the bands forward, like throwing a ball.
Then they did the same thing (with partner holding the band), and did forehand strokes.
There were six “plank” exercises. These are exercises where the athlete typically lies on the ground and then lifts himself in the air in various ways with his arms or legs, and holds it there for 30 seconds, with body relatively straight. (The first two aren’t really plank exercises.)
Hand and leg extensions (Go on hands and knees and extend left arm and right leg; repeat with the reverse)
Russian twists (Sit on ground, leaning backwards, and rapidly touch each side, rotating body side to side)
Forward plank (Lie on stomach, and raise body on elbows/forearms and legs)
Right plank (Lie on right side and raise body with right arm and leg)
Left plank (Lie on left side and raise body with left arm and leg)
Back plank (Lie on back and raise body off ground with arms and legs)
Table training was from 12-2PM and 5-8PM, with the camp divided into two groups by levels. (I was with the lower, mostly younger group.) I was a practice partner for the first session, where we did a number of blocking and looping drills. One drill focused on looping with sidespin both ways, both hooking and fading, with both forehand and backhand loops. I helped run the second session, along with Han Xiao and Wang Qing Liang, and gave several lectures/demos on third-ball attack against pushes; third-ball attack against flips; serving short with sidespin and following with a loop; and random drills that start with various deep serves, with the receiver attacking the serve and then rallying as the server blocks side to side at random. We constantly harped on ball placement. For example, when third-ball attacking from backhand side, there are four placements - down line; to opponent’s elbow; crosscourt to corner; and crosscourt outside corner. There are advantages and disadvantages to each. Meanwhile, Richard McAfee and Samson Dubina ran the higher group, with Cory Eider taking a turn with each group, often acting as a 2500+ practice partner.
We finished with up-down tables, where winners move up, losers move down, and everyone tries to reach the first table, with single games to 11 (no deuce - 11-10 wins). The twist - if you won on your serve or third-ball, you got two points. One other twist - if it reached deuce, you had to yell “Deuce!” and the whole camp stopped to watch the next point. Players need to learn to play under pressure with people watching!
Once again lunch and dinner were cooked by Lily Yip and a pair of volunteers. Lunch included a Chinese dish of rice, sausage, scrambled eggs, and spices; clam chowder; spaghetti; and the usual assortment of fruit. Dinner was sesame chicken; two types of ribs; fried rice; potato soup; and fruit.
What did I do in between the two sessions? I have no idea; I finally took a nap and slept through it. (How do you spell exhaustion?)