As you might remember a few weeks ago, Greg Letts kindly accepted my offer of an interview!
After quite a large number of questions by many members here, Greg has provided his answer below. On behalf of the OOAK forum, I'd like to offer a big THANKS!
for agreeing to the interview, and for all the time you spend answering out questions!
Greg is also a member here, so if you have any follow up questions, we might be able to convince him (lots of arm twisting
) to answer them here as well Here is a brief bio about Greg:
Greg is a high level Australian player, and without a doubt one of the top Australian Combination players. Greg is also a International umpire and does a lot of coaching. He runs the TT section on about.com, and also his own table tennis site. He's one of the few people that actively takes videos of the main tournaments in Australia, allowing anyone that wants to see these to buys them on DVD. Greg has also recently started an online table tennis coaching course, specifically for anti/pimple players, which I hope will continue to be successful and many people here encouraged (pushed!
) to do this. Interview with Greg Letts:Background:How long have you been playing table tennis? When did you start playing competitely?
I played ping-pong with cheap hardbats for fun as a kid, but didn't start playing competitively until age 15, when one of my friends at school brought me along to the West Australian junior club. We got hooked, bought decent rackets for the first time (my first racket was Sriver and Super Sriver on a Kenny blade - the one with the black painted handle). Three months later I tried out for the State junior team and made the squad. So I guess I was a late starter.You went from an away-from-the-table defender who pick hit, to an at-the-table inverted player (I think) back to pips with more twiddling player... which was more rewarding?
To a certain extent, playing as a long range defender who pick hit was the most rewarding, since it was nice to play a style that spectators found attractive to watch, and winning through tactics and guile when you were technologically outgunned always felt good too. The feeling of being competitive with a fairly unique style at the Australian Open in a world of power loopers was also kind of rewarding.You had some back troubles or such some time ago, and you decided to change your stroke to see if it help your soreness ,did it fix it?
Since coming back to the sport in 2003, I've had problems with aches and pains in my legs (both muscles and joints). It didn't seem to matter much whether I was fit or overweight, or played long range defense or up to the table. I would ache that night and take a couple of days to recover. After the 2010 Aussie Veterans, I was literally sore for a week. When I started training for 2011, I had an hour long training session and started to hurt again, which made it clear that I wouldn't be able to continue training normally - I couldn't handle the amount of table time I know I needed to do.
I finally had the idea that it might be the bending and turning involved in conventional techique that was the problem. I switched to a grip that allows a full range of motion in my forehand wrist snap, which produces a lot of extra power with minimal effort. It also means I don't have to bend from the knees as much, and I don't have to turn my upper body too much either.
The day I started training using this grip all my extra lower body aches and pains went away. Now I just have the niggles you would expect from being 40 - a little wear and tear and a touch of tendonitis in the tendon just below my left kneecap. I can play 3-4 hours, come home and be tired but not aching, and wake up able to play the next day with no problems. After playing with pain for years, it really feels like a miracle now.Is there much junior talent in Western Australia?
WA has always had it's share of junior talent - and we have some good juniors coming through at the moment. The problem we have is once they hit the age of around 15-16, our best juniors don't get the extra training at high level with advanced players that eastern states juniors get, and they start to fall behind and often leave the sport by the time they hit Year 12 and start studying for exams.What do you feel as your best win to date?
Hmmm, that's a tough one. My wins against Kamalesh Tharmasuthan and Chamara Fernando in a teams match at the 2005 Australian Open were pretty memorable, considering they had both crushed me the year before in my first Aussie Open for many years. They were my first good wins nationally since coming back to the sport. Beating Kouros Zirak, Brian Berry, and BP Huynh to help my O/40 Mens Team come back from 2-5 down to beat Victoria 6-5 and help us end up with the silver medal at the 2010 Aussie Vets was pretty awesome too - not because I played especially well (because I didn't), but because I scraped out tough wins under pressure and the atmosphere among my teammates and supporters was something else as we slowy fought our way back to win. I won't forget that night in a hurry.Online Coaching CourseGreg's online coaching course for long pips can be found hereAs many people on the OOAK forum know well, you run an online coaching course, particularly suitable for combination players. This is quite unique, and quite a few people from our forum (including myself) encouraged you to do this and are participating. So a few questions on this:
How are things going with the course? Is is running like you expected?
Nothing ever goes as expected! But I do enjoy it. The biggest problem is that I've been very slow at putting up new videos - but I'm back working steadily in the last few months. I did think that I would get more questions from my members - but they seem pretty happy to watch the videos instead of asking direct questions. Overall the feedback has been pretty good.I really like the way that most of our coaching is done via videos, instead of just text. Do you think it's more effective this way?
For online coaching, videos are the way to go. Nothing beats being able to actually see demonstrations of what I'm talking about when it comes to techniques or match tactics. The combination of seeing it and hearing it is hard to beat when it comes to learning new skills.What are your future plans for this course?
I've already got 5 months of the course fully completed - which is about 40 hours of video. I'm looking to complete Month 6 (including some advanced topics, some explanation of how to play against long pips and antispin when you are using a combination bat as well, and questions from members). It will be close to 50 hours of video coaching by that stage.
In those 6 months, I'll have pretty much covered the essentials regarding the aspects of the game I consider myself well versed in, and now that I'm heading into new territory in my close to the table play, I wouldn't feel right charging my students for something I'm still exploring myself!
So once Month 6 is completed, I'm going to change direction a little and focus on documenting my progress in changing my game to an aggressive up to the table style, using my new grip. While I did pretty well at the 2010 Aussie Vets as an up to the table combi bat player (#2 in the O/40 order of Merit), I'm still a relative newcomer to the style and I'm still learning about how best to approach the game using this style. So at the moment my group members are getting a series of free videos where I start by explaining the reasons for my grip and style change, and then record each step along the way as I prepare for the 2011 NZ Vets, Aussie Open and Aussie Vets. They get to follow along as I take them through the whole process of making plans, trying things out, making mistakes, analyzing what went wrong and how to fix things, and adjusting my plans again. So rather than just watching individual videos discussing a specific technique, tactic, or training tip, I'm showing them how I'm actually using all these things myself in order to get ready for 2011.
So the short answer is I'm stopping the general course at 6 months of content, and I'm currently working on videoing my own progress in adapting to a new style and grip using all this advice I've given out. I'll probably end up with enough content from that for another 3 or 4 months worth of videos, but this extra stuff is free for my current members.
After that, I don't have any fixed plans for the course. I'll probably sit down and re-evaluate things after the 2011 Aussie Vets in October.Technique / Strategy / Coaching:All defenders seem to dread the short pips hitters, do you have any nice solution on how to deal with them?
Short pip hitters are tough, no doubt about it. I'm afraid there is no simple solution to dealing with them. I try to remember that even short pips still react a little to my own variations in spin, so if I can keep the ball low enough, I can still force mistakes from my opponent as he tries to flat hit through my returns. I'm lucky that I have a heavy topspin loop, so I also take the chance to attack myself whenever possible, since my extra heavy spin often causes even short pips hitters to pop the ball up off the end of the table.
I try to avoid putting the ball high with my long pips, unless I'm chopping from way back. When close to the table you have to keep the ball low with your long pips, especially when the opponent is trying to pin you down on your long pip or anti side. They like nothing better that a slightly popped up ball from your long pips, which has virtually no spin for them to deal with, so they can just pick a spot on the table and whack the ball right at it.It's often said, even amongst material players, that kids should start out using a double inverted set up to learn the basics, before they move on to pips. Not trying to put words in your mouth here, but I believe that it's when we are young that we have the best ability to learn, so wouldn't it be useful to start out with pips as soon as possible, if it suits your style?
I personally believe that juniors should have the chance to learn all aspects of the game before settling on a particular style. After a few years, the junior's natural style will become evident, and at that point he or she can start choosing long pip or antispin rubbers to suit his game, if necessary. It's easiest to learn all the basic strokes first with inverted rubber, and then once the basics are learnt, to start deciding how to incorporate long pips or antispin into their game. It's not that hard to take the basic inverted strokes and then modify them for long pip or antispin techniques.
Start a junior with long pips or antispin too soon, and he may never discover that he has a great backhand loop or drive, which may limit his potential down the track. When developing a player, how quickly do you single out a potential chopper from the regular looping and hitting players?
I'm not really qualified to answer this question, since I've never been involved in that stage of junior coaching. But I guess a potential chopper will show up as a junior who possibly prefers to take the ball late rather than early, or one who attempts to return every ball no matter what. I personally began serious play as a close to the table heavy pusher and blocker who put more emphasis on returning everything, rather than a long range defender away from the table.Do you think all choppers could or should play closer to the table, as it lessens physical demands?
That's a tough call, and it's a matter of degree. As you get older, playing closer to the to table lessens the physical demands, but increases the demand on your reactions. Good combination bat play can slow down the opponent to your own level though. I wouldn't say that every chopper should do it, but it is something that every chopper who is getting older should think seriously about in regard to his own game.
One other thing to keep in mind is the 'dead' zone between being right up close to the table and being far away from the table. When you are close, you get the benefit of giving your opponent less time to react to your twiddles, spin variation and pace variation, and you can cut off angles more easily, and get more effect from your attack, at the cost of having to deal with the fast pace of the ball close in. From far away, you get more time to react, and the ball really starts to slow down in pace and spin markedly in the last metre or two, making it much easier to handle.
But when you start stepping forward from far away, you move into the 'dead zone', where you don't quite get the benefits of playing close to the table, but you also lose the advantages of playing far away, since the ball still has plenty of zip and spin on it. Sure, you'll cut off angles a bit, but your opponent's attacks will be much tougher to chop, and your own counterattacks will be not so effective. You are also too far away to really chop block with the pips, so you often end up with the worst of all worlds.
Now if older players are playing other older players, you can move in since your opponents will be starting to hit less hard, so the 'dead zone' shrinks. But when you try to move in against a younger player who has good power, you may run into a lot of trouble. Something to think about.Do you feel that chopping requires a different mindset compared to loopers and hitters in games?
I think the answer is yes if you are talking about traditional retrievers, who used to wear down their opponents by returning every ball. The mindset was to return everything, and wait for a mistake.
More aggressive choppers, and the attacking modern defenders, work more similarly to loopers and hitters, in that they want to force a mistake from their opponent, not just wait for one. It's just that the weapons used to force that mistake are different - deception and spin variation for choppers, and heavy backspin setting up a strong forehand topspin for modern defenders. But the mindset is pretty similar in my opinion.Is it feasible to develop highly offensive choppers and is it preferable to develop their defense or offense first?
Sure, I think it's feasible to develop highly offensive choppers. There's not a lot of them around, so they can be very tough to handle, as most players aren't familiar with playing against the style. The problem is that there aren't many coaches who know how to develop them, myself included. I was never a highly offensive chopper myself, so I can't call on personal experience here either. Apart from the Chinese, Koreans and perhaps the Japanese, I don't know that anybody else knows exactly how to go about developing a modern defensive player.Do you feel that it's easier/better to be a disruptive chopper or a passive chopper?
I'm going to assume you mean disruption in terms of being deceptive and having spin variation, rather than just using a sheet of disruptive, wobbly pips. The higher in level you play, the more important it is to be disruptive rather than passive. Passive play will not win from high intermediate level onwards.How do you practice disruption and switching from defense to offense?
To practice disruption, deception and the forcing of hesitation from opponents, you have to use the tools at your disposal well and smoothly. You should be able to twiddle in a flash, you should be able to vary your swing speed when chopping at will, you should be able to adjust the amount of wrist you use at will, you should be able to vary the height of the contact with the ball when you chop as desired, and you should be able to vary the spin and point of contact with the ball too. No shortcuts here - just hours and hours of practice combining these variables to produce different spins that look similar to the opponent.
Switching from defense to offense depends on your style of play, your footwork, your grip and technique etc. For years I spend 90% of my time switching from defense to offense via a backhand opening loop, due to my stance and grip limitations, and poor forehand technique. Once I fixed those problems, I could switch from defense to offense on either side. The best way to practice it? Start simple with basic fixed drills like chop two, hit one on your forehand side, and then build up the complexity until you end up with random drills where you don't know when your opponent will push the ball, and which side. Get the basics down before moving up in difficulty, but eventually you need to be doing practice that closely simulates match play.Equipment:How do you feel about the minimum friction rule? I know you don't play with that stuff your self, but do you think this rule while decrease the number of defenders in the future? Or, can you even see this as something positive? Current rules certainly seem to favour attacking players and thre are very few defenders at the tops levels, so perhaps we need some new rules to favour defensive players?
I didn't like the minimum friction rule at all, I think it was a poor decision by the ITTF. In terms of decreasing defenders, it will probably reduce the number of older push/blocker style defenders of course. The younger generation will adapt and come up with new techniques, I'm sure. True frictionless pimples which were frictionless on the sides and top of the pimples were very predictable and could be handled with a little practice, and should not have been banned. Frictionless pips with glassy tops and sticky sides (or vice versa) could be very unpredictable depending on the amount of bending of the pips, and should quite rightly have been banned.
The rule change won't affect defending at a high level, since virtually no top player was using frictionless pips, apart from the odd anomaly like Akerstrom etc. Is there promise in LP blocking at your level?
Yes and no. I think you can compete with LP blocking at my level (say around 900-1100 WR), but you had better be damn consistent with your block! In the last few weeks I've moved from playing a LP blocking game on the backhand, to an aggressive driving game with the LP with occasional blocks, and I find at my level this works much better in terms of pressuring opponents.At your level, do you still hear sour grapes about your rubber when you beat some body?
Interestingly enough, I rarely hear any sour grapes when I play in the Aussie Open or other high level tournaments such as the Aussie Vets, against players who might only play me once a year. Even against some of the up and coming juniors who used to struggle with my style and long pips, none of them ever came up to me and complained about the pips themselves, since they seemed to realize it was the style that they were having trouble with. They all seemed to accept that I had the perfect right to use long pips.
But at home, I do have a couple of players who complain a lot about the long pips and my use of them, in a semi-serious manner during a match or just afterwards. It was very satisfying last year when I was two wing looping using inverted on both sides and I beat them that way too!What setup are you using at the moment?
I'm using Killerspin Blast max thickness on the forehand, and Stiga Destroyer OX on the backhand, on a Butterfly Matsushita Pro Special blade (which is carbon and willow). I have one bat with red on the forehand, and another identical bat with black on the forehand. I can't tell the difference between the red and black versions of the rubbers, so I figure have two bats that are different colors makes it a little bit harder for my local opponents, who play me more often.Has the banning of speed glue effected the way you play now? And also playing against your opponents?
It hasn't really affected me much, since I was never really dependent on it at any stage - my attacks were always more spinny than power based. And it hasn't really affected my opponents much, since locally only a couple of top players used it (and the current rubbers have much the same effect), and at the Aussie Open most of the top guys are still boosting or gluing, in my opinion.General:Do you think Australia should adopt a USATT rating system?
As the graded system is just too broad a level. I don't think we really need it, although it wouldn't hurt either - I'm kind of indifferent. I'm probably not the best person to ask, since being stuck in WA I only get over to the eastern states for Aussie Opens and Veterans really, which aren't affected by ratings or gradings. Locally, we are such a small state we know our gradings pretty well, and we have a local rating/grading system which works quite well for the most part. I don't know whether it is a real problem in the eastern states.Warming up before a match. Most players just get off their chair, then hit up and then play, you jump about and do exercises. When did you start doing this? And have you ever played without warming up and did it make a big difference to you.
I started doing this back in my twenties when I first started to really long range defend, and I was getting fit enough to survive a comprehensive warm up. I used to warm up for around 20 minutes before a match in order to get my first sweat out of the way and get my heart used to the activity, as well as warming up the body of course.
Nowadays it's a fine line between warming up and wearing out, but I still always try to be warm before going out on court. I've never been prone to pulling muscles or strains, so my main focus is again to get the heart rate up and get ready for activity, and very importantly, to get my playing wrist warm and loose. I have played on occasion when I haven't warmed up, or when I thought I had warmed up but not done enough, and then realized in the first point that my wrist was still cold and stiff. The most memorable occasion that springs to mind was against Ho Nam Oh in a teams match a couple of years ago on a freezing Melbourne morning, when I was sweating in my warmup, walked out on court and during the warmup period got cold again, and my wrist froze up. I couldn't get a serve back on the table - I think he beat me something like 2's and 3's.
So yes, I always warm up if possible - but mainly to warm up and loosen up my wrist so I can play with touch. Mental composure when playing is very evident in your play as with many top players. Do you have lapses in your focus and do you have any triggers to help you regain your focus and composure?
I think I have the same struggles as everyone else when it comes to mental composure. Funnily enough, I had come off a bad-tempered year in 2010, and I had decided to just relax and enjoy myself at the 2010 Australian Veterans, no matter what. So in that tournament I found it much easier to simply be calm and enjoy the fact that I was playing in some great matches, regardless of the outcome. I was lucky that I won a number of them!
I don't lapse in focus all that much - since I'm almost always paying attention to what is going on in the match, what I am doing, and what my opponent is doing. Sometimes I'll make decisions about tactics that are incorrect and my opponent may dominate for a while, but it's not a lapse in focus as much as a wrong choice of strategy. It's hard to lose focus when you are constantly thinking about what's going on.Fitness. Can you recommend any particular leg strengthening exercises for improved table coverage and in particular movement in and out from the table? What is the best way to develop footwork for your style of game?
Hmm, I'm probably the wrong person to ask here as well, given my track record in fitness. I use weight training (squats, leg extensions, hamstring curls, and calf raises) to keep the power in my legs, and then I used to train my footwork patterns in drills quite a lot when I was young, which grooves in the movements and will also add leg strength if you do them properly.
If you want speed around the court, then you need power in your legs, and the ability to stay low and in a crouch during a rally. This is not at all easy to maintain in a full best of 7 match unless you are weight training and drilling a lot - your legs will go to rubber halfway through otherwise.How would you compare the depth and strength of the veterans in Australia with other countries you know of - New Zealand and England, for example?
England has the most depth due to sheer number of players, with probably Australia next and New Zealand last, but the gap between England and Australia is probably bigger than Aus and NZ.
Strengthwise - I don't think there is much of a difference really, apart from the odd vet here and there. But our top vets are pretty much as good as the English guys, and the NZ guys are good too.
Who are the best 3 or 4 defenders currently playing in Australia? Don't be modest - you can include yourself.
In my day, I guess I was one of the best playing at the time, but since I'm not playing defensively anymore, I can leave myself out!
Paul Pinkewich of course, both for his record and even his current standard. Craig Campbell - although he is more allrounder than pure defensive, he really does have a great defensive game - with smooth rubbers on both sides no less! Phil Webbsdale looks pretty good from what I've seen of him (which isn't much unfortunately), and you still can't forget players like Mick Wright, Igor Klaf and Jim Kilderry, even at their ages. I know Paul Green of Queensland was pretty solid too. I'm hope I'm not forgetting anybody, but no-one else springs to mind at the moment - certainly no younger guys unfortunately.Seeing as we have a discussion here about creating a top defender, how would you create such a player? Right or left handed? Distance to the table? Focus more on chopping to play it safe, or chop to set up a fh attack?
Given the technology involved in modern table tennis, any top defenders have to be aggressive. I don't think right or left handed matters all that much. I think the next real top modern defender will have the forehand attacking skills of a Joo, but with the ability to vary the spin a little more from both the inverted and long pips side, as well as twiddle. Distance to the table - as close as possible while still controlling the chop.How do you think a forum such as ours, can be used best to promote and grow our sport?
Casting my mind back, I believe this forum started as a meeting place for long pip and antispin rubber users. It's grown a lot since then, which is great. But in terms of promoting and growing our sport, I guess the question is how does this forum get the message across about how great table tennis is to the general public, rather than the established table tennis community. What does this forum have to offer a complete table tennis newbie, and how do you find them (or have them find you) in the first place? Or should the forum stick to catering for the combination bat segment of the table tennis market? Definitely stuff to think about, and discuss on the forum.