International Table Tennis Skills - DVD Review
By Coach Ben Larcombe (United Kingdom)
I’ve never had a table tennis DVD before. I’ve watched hours and hours of table tennis online but I’ve never had an actual physical copy of a table tennis DVD. That is until now. Samson Dubina, a professional table tennis player and coach from the US, has just released a training DVD called ‘International Table Tennis Skills’ and was kind enough to send me a copy to watch and review.
So, who is Samson Dubina? If you’re from the US you probably already know him, but if you’re from the UK (or somewhere else in the world) perhaps you don’t. Samson Dubina is based in Ohio. In fact, he is the #1 player in the state of Ohio! He is a very highly rated player, with a USATT rating of 2463, and coach to many of the top up-and-coming players in Ohio. He is also active online with a table tennis coaching website, YouTube channel, and he even does Skype coaching.
Samson has 19 years of table tennis experience under his belt and in this training DVD, that costs $59.99, he is sharing it with the world. The DVD is split into nine sections;
- Return of Serve
- Match Strategy
- Mental Game
- Physical Training
- Final Thoughts
The whole DVD is just over two hours long. I watched it over a couple of days as I was pausing it, taking notes, going back to watch something again. It took me a long time to get through it all. There is a lot of content in this DVD. I’ll say it again; there is a lot! It’s brilliant but it’s very fast-paced. In order to take it all in you are much better watching a scene or two at a time and then stopping. This isn’t something that you should watch from start to finish. Do that and your brain might just explode.
It’s a really professional product (you can see that from the trailer). The DVD packaging looks good and is well designed. The video work and quality is excellent and the effects in between scenes are nice without being too distracting. You can tell that Samson has investing in working with an experienced company in Profusion Productions, who have produced the DVD.
I will review the DVD using the nine sections as a framework.
I’ll warn you now; this is going to be comprehensive! To review a summary please scroll down to the bottom of the article.
The DVD begins with the loop. I was a little surprised, as I was expecting it to start with things like grip, stance, ready position and then some of the basic shots like the drive (counterhit) and push. This is making me think that the DVD is aimed more at the intermediate player than the beginner. It is assuming that you have most of the fundamentals already in place and are looking for help with the next level of strokes.
Samson had loads of great tips for learning to loop. He highlighted the importance of first concentrating on spin and then moving on to combining spin and speed. He also briefly covered the hook and fade sidespin varieties.
When he moved on to talking about looping against backspin he had a really nice troubleshooting section, with actionable tips if you are looping the ball into the net like; use your legs more, open the bat angle, start with the bat lower and focus on more spin. Sometimes training videos just tell you how to do it perfectly, almost assuming you’ll be able to do it correctly straight away, and don’t anticipate the common mistakes.
I also really liked the way Samson would explain the basic technique and then and an option to make it more advanced. For example, with the backhand loop he said that you start off just using the wrist and arm but once you’ve mastered that you can play a more advanced shot by incorporating some waist rotation into the ball. His did the same thing when talking about the backhand loop against backspin, stating that first players should focus on going up the back of the ball and then once they get the hang of it they can start going more forwards, over the top of the ball.
I really liked this tip; when the ball is coming at you slowly you can use a longer backswing but when it is coming fast you need to shorten your stroke and use more wrist. Great advice!
Samson demonstrates each stroke both without the ball and with the ball. It gives you a really good idea of what it should look like. The one thing I found difficult was the speed that we strokes were covered. It only took 9 minutes to get through all of that and it felt a little like there wasn’t time to breathe. It was, “Now I’m going to show you this. Now I’m going to show you this. Here it is without the ball. Here it is with the ball”. It was very fast.
Samson finished the strokes section by covering the forehand and backhand block. Again there was a lot of very good information but it came and went very very quickly. If you were actually trying to learn these strokes from the DVD I would recommend watching it several times. It would have been nice if there was a bit more time after each stroke to point out a couple of the key points to focus on.
The footwork section began with lateral movement in the form of the side-to-side shuffle. Samson clearly made the point that if you want to move to the right it is the left foot that needs to initiate the movement but that both feet need to move simultaneously. It’s easy to understand when you can do it but I would have liked to have seen a little more time spent on this, with a bit more video footage. I think some players that struggle with footwork may whizz through that section still not completely understand what they are doing wrong. A troubleshooting section would have been a nice addition here.
Then Samson covered in and out footwork, which is often ignored and is just as important as lateral movement. He again made the good point about playing a longer stroke when you are further back and have more time, and playing a shorter stroke when you are closer to the table. It would have been nice to really break down what his feet were doing though. Perhaps in slow motion.
The crossover step came next, which is a very advanced type of footwork. I would have liked to see Samson give a bit of a disclaimer with this step because I think often players start trying it out before they are ready. Sam (from Expert in a Year) certainly had this problem. A few other coaches decided to show him the crossover step quite early on, before he had fully mastered the standard sidestep movement. I think this confused him and he end up crossing his legs subconsciously on balls that really weren’t that far away. It became a bad habit. I would like to see players only begin to look at the crossover step once they have fully grasped standard lateral movement. It isn’t something you need to use that often in match situations either.
The next section covered short game footwork which was really great. Samson made the point that right-handed players should step in with their right foot, that sometimes you need to move both feet and then he broke down the sequence; feet first, then swing, then move back out. Easy to understand.
Another great point that was made was the importance of these ‘mini steps’, which are small adjustments to make sure you are in the perfect position. The alternative is to just lean and reach, which you see lots of players doing. That’s fine as a last resort but ideally you want to anticipate the ball and move slightly to the right or left.
Samson also pointed out the things you should be thinking about/looking at in order to correctly anticipate the direction of your opponents shot;
- Your hit/placement
- Your opponents body language
- Your opponents racket angle
- The incoming ball
The next section was all about your serve. Samson started with a load of really great general tips to improve your serve and then went through a number of different serves in detail. Here were some of my favourite tips;
- Miss your serve – You should miss some of your serves in training (perhaps even as high as 20%) because you should be trying to push yourself. If you aren’t missing any then you probably aren’t pushing yourself enough.
- Use your best serves early – Don’t save your best serve until the end in the hope of winning a quick point with it at deuce. Use it a couple of times at the start of the game and hopefully you’ll win before it gets to deuce.
- Occasionally serve long – This is to keep your opponent on his toes. Even though the majority of your serves will probably be short if you only serve short you make things too easy for them. Keep the threat of the long serve up your sleeve.
Samson also gave tips to improve the quality of your serve like; focus on spin from the wrist, contact the ball low, vary your depth and placement, use different spins and degrees of spin (sometimes heavy spin, sometimes less spin).
The serves he covered in detail were…
- Forehand Pendulum
- Forehand Reverse Pendulum
- Forehand Hook
- Backhand Serve
- Forehand Tomahawk
- Reverse Tomahawk
- Windscreen Wiper
- Reverse Windscreen Wiper
They all featured good demonstrations (with some slow-motion footage and side-by-side comparisons) and clear explanations. He finished by stressing the importance of having a strong serve and using it to give yourself a mental advantage and to imposed your game plan on the match.
4. Return of Serve
I like the fact that Samson begins this section by talking about how to loop long and half-long serves. This is the correct attitude to have. Many people begin by teaching players to push their opponents serves, as the safe option, but ideally you want to be looking to loop if you can and Samson clearly understand the importance of stressing this first.
He gives loads of great tips to help players loop more of their opponents serves. Things like; moving your feet first, waiting for the ball/not rushing, and not blasting the ball. He rightly tells player to move closer to the table when looping half-long serves and to shorten the backswing. I would have liked to see him mention the importance of using the wrist and feeling from the fingers on these half-long balls but it wasn’t discussed.
Then Samson moved on to what to do when receive a short backspin ball. The pointed out the three options, long push, short push, and flick/flip. I liked the way he showed progression. You could start by working on your long push return (the easiest of the three), then move on to attempting to push short instead, and finally try to actually attack these serves with a flick (the most difficult return). He had plenty of great tips for how to use all three effectively. He was encouraging you not to just blindly long push everything but to think about your options a little more.
Then came a section where Samson explained how to read the spin of your opponents serve and how to deal with that spin. Some of this was really good. I liked how he spoke about the option to either stop the spin (by going in the opposite direction) or add to the spin (by going in the same direction). This was very valuable. Some of what he said seemed a bit basic though. Especially when you consider that earlier he had left out a lot of the basics. I guess for some people it would be useful but lots of people may just skip over the bit where he is talking about how the ball spins and how spin works etc.
5. Match Strategy
Samson began by pointing out the five ways to win points;
- Win with speed
- Win with Spin
- Win with placement
- Win with variation
- Win with consistency
This was a good reminder. It don’t always have to win with a massive powerful shot. There are plenty of other ways to win point too! Then he went into another section that seemed a bit basic, again talking about the different kinds of spin and how it works with different types of rubber. It was all correct, it just seemed to be targeted at a lower level of player than the rest of the DVD. The next part, however, was brilliant!
Samson began to go through all the different types of opponent you may come up against (looper, blocker, chopper, lobber, left-handed, penhold, long pips, short pips etc.) and explain what they do and what you should do to beat them. This is probably the most valuable part of the DVD, in my opinion, as this kind of detailed advice regarding how to beat different styles of player is quite rare.
It also broke down the styles within styles. For example, a looper can be all forehand, or better on the backhand, or good on both wings, or better close to the table. Samson covered all these different variations and then gave suggestions for how best to play against them.
I’m not going to give away all of his secrets here (if you want to find out more you can but the DVD) but I will ask him if he minds me sharing it at some point with my audience. I would particularly like to turn it into some kind of infographic or grid that shows the type of player, what they want to do, and then what you should do against them.
Samson also spoke about the importance of scouting your opponents and using video analysis, something that I go on about constantly. He said that if you are doing hours of homework on your opponents, studying them, then you are going to be able to pick up on all the little details of how they play and that will lead to success. He was saying to study their serves and return of serves in particular as understand their habits before you get into the court with them is going to be a huge advantage.
He also suggested scouting yourself; watching yourself play and thinking, “How would I beat me? What is my opponent going to try against me based on the way I play?”.
Samson finished the section with a little bit about being nice to the umpires. It made me laugh a bit but it is good advice. If you are nice to them they are much more likely to be nice to you!
6. Mental Game
Samson said that table tennis is 50% physical and 50% mental. I’m not sure exactly what that means but he’s making the point that the mental side of the game is more important than most of us think.
He made a few great points about what to think about (and what not to think about) when playing matches.
- DO think about your own footwork and ball placement.
- DON’T think about your technique and the mechanics of your strokes.
- DO think about your opponent’s weaknesses.
- DON’T think about winning and losing (and what will happen if you win or lose).
- DO think about what’s working and what isn’t working tactically.
- DON’T think about distraction outside of your game/strategy (stay in the moment).
He gave a great illustration about the problem of thinking about the consequences of failure. If he was to put a large plank of wood down on the floor and ask you if you could walk across it you’d say, “Of course”. However, if he put the same plank of wood over Niagara Falls and asked you the same question you would probably say, “No way”. The task is exactly the same; it’s the ‘what ifs’ that make the task seem more difficult that it is.
Then Samson goes on to give some great tips for dealing with troublemakers (cheats, time-wasters) and talk about the importance of developing a pre- and post-game routine. I really liked the way he emphasized giving yourself time to relax, both immediately before and after a match. This is something I could do with implementing.
What followed was loads of great pieces of advice. Seriously, this could be broken down and turned into 10-20 top quality blog posts alone. Samson talks about how to shake off a loss and move forward, why you should copy the reactions and attitudes of professional players, and why it’s important to play your best, and focus 100%, in practice.
He also answered the common question, “Why do I play better against better players?” He said that this is largely due to having a more relaxed mindset and feeling that you have nothing to lose. He pointed out that this is something that you need to find a way to create in all your matches, regardless of who you are playing. I know I have certainly struggled with this in the past.
7. Physical Training
I didn’t realise there was going to be a physical training section in this DVD. I thought there wouldn’t be time to cover it, and I guess I was right. This section was very short and didn’t contain much detail.
Samson demonstrated nine exercises in total; three for core training, three for leg strengthening, and three for developing speed. The exercises were good but there wasn’t really any advice about how to do them, why to do them, or how to make them more difficult. You could probably make a full DVD just about physical training for table tennis so it’s no wonder that this section had to be cut short. It gives you a few ideas of things you could try though and I’m sure, from there, you could go and do your own research into other exercises and workouts.
In the drills section Samson picks a few of the common table tennis drills and breaks them down. Again, there are so many possible drills that you could probably make a whole DVD just going through loads of different ones but here we just get a brief overview of a few.
Drills covered include;
- Two regular drills (2 Backhands, 2 Forehands; and Falkenberg)
- Two irregular drills (Random feed into backhand half; and Middle, either side)
- One serve drill
- One return of serve drill
It was probably good that Samson only went through six drills as this gave him a bit more time to explain each, give some tips, and also talk about ways to make them more difficult.
I liked the idea of playing the first backhand soft and the second backhand hard in the ‘2 backhands, 2 forehands’ drill. This is something that I have been doing in my training recently and it makes sense from a match perspective to increase the power on the second shot. Samson also talks about asking your training partner to vary their blocks. This can make a drill much more difficult and more like a real match situation.
9. Final Thoughts
Sam finished the DVD with ten tips. I really liked the way he would often pause during the DVD to give a list of clear tips. It made it really easy to follow, and also to take notes.
His final point is all about the importance of both learning and applying. If you want to succeed at table tennis you need to become a master of both. It’s no good watching all these DVDs and videos, and learning more and more, but then never applying any of it to your practice or matches. You must take something from the DVD, begin to practice it, and then over time start to use it in match situations.
Samson Dubina’s International Table Tennis Skills DVD is brilliant, and well worth the $59.99 price tag. It is aimed at the intermediate table tennis player who is keen to improve but perhaps struggles to find good quality coaching.
- It covers pretty much all aspects of the game.
- Samson is a great coach and explains everything simply and clearly.
- There are lots of actionable points; things you can start applying to your game now.
- It is very professionally made and allows you to skip between sections.
- It’s not 100% clear who this DVD is aimed at (beginners, intermediate or advanced players?).
- Some sections feel a little rushed and very fast-paced.
- I would have liked to see a bit more detail in the physical training section.