I’ve been working with Harrie Austin-Jones for almost 18 months now. He knows all the basics of table tennis. He looks like a proper player when you watch him knocking up. His overall technique is good.
That means we’ve got to the stage where I’m trying to help him to develop some proper ‘weapons’. His forehand loop has always been his favourite shot, so we’ve been working on improving that a lot recently.
There are two major issues with Harrie’s looping in general;
- He is far too tense and rigid in his upper body – especially the shoulder. This causes his loops to be very ‘clunky’, a bit slow, and they require a huge amount of effort.
- His timing often lets him down, as he swings too early or too late and isn’t able to make adjustments.
I believe these two are closely linked to each other.
Fixing the initial timing of his backswing should help him to relax his upper body. And once his upper body is relaxed he’ll be able to make adjustments to his stroke that will stop him from missing the ball.
What is… Pause & Snap?
“Pause & Snap” is what I’ve been saying to Harrie recently as we work on his forehand loops – and it seems to be helping. It’s a principle that can be applied to forehand and backhand loops. And it works against topspin balls or backspin balls.
Its purpose is to stop Harrie being so robotic in his movements.
This is a huge problem for intermediate-level table tennis players. Everything is ‘back, forward, back, forward, one, two, one, two’. Same speed. No deceleration or acceleration.
It’s a very inefficient way to loop a ball. “Pause & Snap” is my cure.
- Pause = You want to pause for a split second at the end of your backswing before you start your forward motion. It isn’t really a pause, more of a deceleration/relaxation before you explode forward to contact the ball.
- Snap = You always want to accelerate into a loop. This is what is going to generate heavy topspin. Even on a slower, spinnier loop, your arm should still be snapping quickly into the ball, just as it would on a fast loop.
So, the ‘pause’ causes relaxation and helps you to time correctly the forward swing of your loop.
Harrie’s forehand loop was much better during our training session on Friday when he was thinking “Pause & Snap” in his head during our drills.
Loop Timing & Stroke Speed
Before I wrap this up I also want to briefly touch on the differences in stroke timing between an intermediate and elite table tennis player.
I’ve noticed that when looping Harrie generally has two speeds, fast or slow.
There’s nothing wrong with that. I think the same is true of me. I have two types of loop, a slow loop and a fast loop. The problem is with the timing structure of his two strokes.
- Harrie’s Slow Loop = Back, Back, Forward, Forward. Back, Back, Forward, Forward.
- Harrie’s Fast Loop = Back, Forward. Back, Forward.
To put that into seconds, it would be something like; one second back, one second forward (for his slow loop) and half a second back, half a second forward (for his fast loop).
I feel like the slow and fast loop of an elite player are noticeably different.
- Elite Slow Loop = Back, Back, Back, Forward. Back, Back, Back, Forward.
- Elite Fast Loop = Back, Back, Forward. Back, Back, Forward.
The elite table tennis player always spends longer on the backswing than the forward snap. This is partly because they begin the backswing earlier (because they read the placement of the ball faster) but also because they have this pause at the end of the backswing.
So the elite player starts the backswing slightly earlier and stays in the backswing slightly longer than the intermediate player.
They also always have a fast “whippy” or “snappy” forward motion and contact with the ball.
I noticed that Harrie have a tendency to go slowly back and slowly forward when he wants to do a slow loop with more spin – hence the “Forward, Forward”. The forward swing takes twice as much time as it should.
Copy Ma Long!
Here’s a video of Ma Long forehand looping backswing balls with his textbook flawless technique.
Try counting the four ‘beats’ of his stroke.
- One, Two, Three, Four.
- Back, Back, Back, Forward.
I would say he spends three times as much time in the backswing as he does in the ‘forwardswing’.
He does this by starting the backswing as early as possible, and by ‘pausing’ (if you find it helpful to think of it like that) for just a split second at the end of the backswing before accelerating into the ‘forwardswing’ part of his stroke.
Harrie and I are going to keep working on that. Why don’t you give it a go too and see if thinking “Pause & Snap” helps you to develop effortless forehand and backhand loops?