Bounce with the Ball

My friend Yazel told me he had mentioned "Bounce With The Ball" on mytabletennis.net, so this seems like a good opportunity to make my thoughts known.

Footwork choreography

Footwork is a deep puzzle in table tennis, for me. I've noticed some things.

"Bounce with the ball" joins footwork choreography to the concept of the pre-tensioned stroke, giving simplicity and discipline to one and support and power to the other.

A pre-tensioned stroke begins not at the static and waiting bottom of the hand trajectory, but at the top of the high-front-ready position. The hand is thrown downward with supporting structure pre-tensioned, as a spring is loaded by a weight, timed with the ball contact on the near table, and the hand springs forward and up as the ball rises from the table. The hand bounces up from the bottom of its trajectory, releasing the spring energy that was stored during the downward stroke.

The pre-tensioned stroke brings several differences with it: courage, because you must wait with hand high late into the incoming ball's trajectory. Effortlessness because you gain a huge mechanical advantage from the spring effect. Quickness because a spring-loaded stroke requires much less acceleration time out of the bottom of the hand trajectory. Time to wait, watch, think, and plan, because the committing backstroke action is initiated so late.

It also enables "bounce with the ball". In "bounce with the ball", there are two two-footed hops per ball contact: Attack and Recover, where the interesting one is Recover.

I spend too much time watching my beautifully struck ball flying away, rooting for it to hit the table, smiling stupidly with the thought of what a great shot it was and how my opponent will surely miss it. Then reinforcing my own insecurity when I discover it coming back to me. Then rushing late to return the ball which I haven't planned to recieve.

Instead I should stop paying attention to what I can no longer influence, and pay extra attention to getting ready for the next: Recover!

So by the time my ball hits the other side of the table (hopefully the shortest part of the cycle, if I am on offense), I should have touched down, compressed into a bounce, and be bouncing back to a recovered, balanced, side-uncommitted position and posture. I should HURRY to recover. I should CONCENTRATE on recovering. Then I'll have TIME to watch my opponent's intention and plan my third ball.

As you may imagine, this seems awfully complex, putting a lot together. But Yazel is right, "Bounce with the ball" simplifies and coordinates everything. I do teach my kids this very simple baby-level drill which teaches the footwork choreography to bounce with the ball. One or two can do it together. Bend your knees and pat the ball up a few inches. Let it bounce twice, bouncing your knees with each bounce of the ball. The moment of contact, ball to table, is the moment of maximum compression of the knees.

With a partner, alternate patting the ball up. The ball should not travel any direction other than up and down, bouncing in place. Try to pat the ball up while it is on its way up from the table, just after the bounce. Keep it small so you can make your movements gradually quicker and quicker. In the entire cycle, the time to pause and wait is after the Recover bounce, while you are waiting for your partner to touch the ball, which could be early as the ball rises or late as it falls again. Just wait, then bounce with the ball as it comes to your turn.

I recommend everyone does this a few minutes a day for a week or two. You'll train your body into this kind of footwork timing. Try to pat the ball up using your knees rather than your hand. Moving your feet is not always necessary, but bounce with your knees. Concentrate on the second bounce, after you hit the ball, not before.

This style can be seen in the play of Timo Boll, I am told. I learned of it from Joe Ching who uses it in his unique pongfu style, who himself reported it to me during a several-months period of daily lessons with Fan Yi Yong, so I believe it is from Yong, who of course is a prime exponent in the West of the Chinese National TT coaching knowledge base.

The advantages of pre-tensioned, sprung power with quickness of stroke plan implementation and plenty of time to react make this the ideal footwork choreography, as I understand it today.

How does the footwork support pre-tensioned sprung strokes? The downstroke of hand is timed with the compression of the knees in the Attack bounce, and the springing in the knees supoorts, adds power to, and is part of the springing of the hand. They are the same.

Good luck to you!