The Benefits Of Using A Robot

Newgy Robo-Pong
Question: 

I'm 29 years of age and I started playing table tennis 2 years ago. It has become sort of a passion. Do you think it would be worth the cost for me? Please try to think as a player rather than as a salesman. Also are there are any disadvantages to Robo-Pong 2000?

Answer: 

Newgy robots are used by players of all levels, but are particularly useful for players who are in the development stages. In the U. S. at the top levels, Cheng Ying Yua (who has beaten Jan Ove Waldner), Jimmy Butler (several times U.S. Champion), Barney J. Reed (current national team member), and many others use our robot for practice. Several of our top coaches like Barney D. Reed, Richard McAfee (1996 Olympic TT Director), Marty Prager, and Larry Hodges all practically insist on having their students use robots so strokes can be "grooved" as quickly as possible. Anytime you're learning something new, you will find a robot helpful. The Newgy robot can be adjusted to challenge any player from beginner to national champion.

A robot purchase is a great investment; it's worth every penny. If you have a robot at home, you are more likely to play and practice than if you have to go to a club and hunt for a compatible partner. The single most important thing to do to improve is to play a lot. With a robot you will hit approximately 5-10 times more balls in the same amount of time than if you were training with a human partner (particularly in the earlier stages where both partners lack the ball control to keep a practice rally going for a long period.). Robot and multi-ball practice is a much more efficient method for practicing which dramatically cuts down the time to learn new skills. The Chinese introduced the concept of multi-ball training back in the 60's and is (arguably) one of the primary reasons why they have so many players that have high level skills.

A robot is not the complete answer to getting better, just a part. Develop strokes and techniques by repetition on the robot, then find a practice partner to incorporate random drills, variable shots, and other things that a robot can't reproduce. A coach guiding this entire process is invaluable also. Other aspects of a complete training program include practice competition (so you can incorporate skills learned in practice into an actual match-like situation), tournaments, calisthenics, league play, and proper nutrition.

The Newgy Robot's spins are very similar to a human's. As a former top level player (top 50 in the U.S.), I have no trouble going from playing on the robot to playing a player in a game. The Newgy Robot is limited, however, in that speed and spin must be increased or decreased at the same time. So it can produce a fast loop with fast speed and high spin, but not a slow loop with slow speed and high spin. A high-level player can also produce more topspin on a good loop than Robo-Pong 2000 can.

One of the least recognized advantages of using a robot is that you can use it to develop your aerobic conditioning. If you set the robot to oscillate (so you have to move your feet) and at a frequency rate that you can keep up with for at least 20 minutes, you can get true aerobic conditioning by keeping your heart rate elevated for an extended period of time. This is very difficult to do with a human partner, for instance, because you must stop at the end of each rally. Using a robot for your aerobic conditioning kills two birds with one stone: you improve your aerobic condition while at the same time you improve your table tennis specific skills. (The Player's Instructional Manual that comes with every Robo-Pong 2000 or 2040 robot includes a complete chapter on how to use your robot to improve your fitness.)

I do not know of any disadvantage to using a robot. However, the robot is limited in what it can do. As long as you keep in mind that the robot is not the complete answer, just a part in the puzzle, you will enjoy your practice and reap many benefits from its use.

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Switching From Robot Play To Competition

Newgy Robo-Pong
Question: 

Once I got used to Robo-Pong's speed, angle, placing and rhythm, I have a big disadvantage playing with human players whose hits vary so much in speed, angle, placing and spin. Although I can adjust Robo-Pong's speed, angle and placing, it does not help much. My playing skills worsened.

Answer: 

Regarding your concerns about training on the robot affecting your competitive play, please remember that robot training is only a part of a total training program. Robot training, 1-on-1 training, multi-ball training, fitness training, practice competition, tournaments, and having a good coach are all necessary for a complete training program. Using a robot will indeed accelerate development of a number of skills if used properly. As a 2100 level rated player, I can seamlessly go from playing on a robot to a competitive match with no ill effects. The secret is in how you design your training program.

The robot's biggest strength is in developing strokes and footwork. For fastest improvement, particularly in the early learning stages, it is very important to have a consistent ball to practice a new stroke against. This is exactly what the robot affords. It would be extremely difficult to learn a new stroke if every ball had a different combination of spin, speed, and placement.

This is what I would suggest: Learn a stroke on the robot until you feel very consistent against a variety of spins, speeds, and angles, practicing them one at a time. When you can handle a variety of different returns from the robot, then start working with your practice partner or coach to work in controlled drills that vary returns from shot to shot so that you can learn to modify each stroke to accommodate the type of return. This is a skill that must be practiced in a controlled practice type environment. Do not mislead yourself to think that you can practice this skill in a game or other competitive environment where your focus should be on winning points, not on developing a new skill.

Once you can modify your strokes "on the fly" to accommodate varying controlled returns, then it's time to start working this skill into practice games, where the object is to use this skill as much as possible in the game, win or lose. The last step is using this skill in actual competition. Skipping one of these steps will lead to poor results. Real improvement takes not only hard work, but working smart as well.

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Setting Up A Table Tennis Room

Newgy Robo-Pong
Question: 

I just moved into a new house and plan to put a table in the basement. The room is 17' wide and 22' long, so I already know from the recent posting on "space needed for a table" that it should be larger, but that was the best I could do. Anyway, I need to install lighting and the obvious choice for a novice like myself would be fluorescent lights. Any other recommendations? Track lighting?

Answer: 

It's great that you've decided to add a Table Tennis Room (TTR) to your house. Your room dimensions are very similar to the TTR in my house. As is typical in many American homes, these are the average dimensions of a two car garage, which can be converted into a decent table tennis room.

To situate your light fixtures, I would start with one mounted in the center of the room directly over the center of the table when it is positioned in the center of the room. Then I would add lighting going towards each of the 17-foot walls. Recessed light fixtures are best, but commonly, most converted garages will dictate surface mount fixtures because of the ceiling height and the direction of the ceiling joists.

In situating the lighting, give priority to positions close to or over the table, where the majority of rallies will take place. Lighting close to the wall is less critical because your body will be taking up space in front of the walls in addition to the space required for your backswings. Your eyes will be 2 to 3 feet away from a wall even when your "back's against the wall".

As a minimum, I would suggest at least one 4-foot double tube fluorescent fixture centered above the table net and another similar fixture centered with the table about 2 feet in back of each endline (See Layout A). All fixtures are parallel with the endlines of the table. Fixtures should be shielded by an opaque covering to prevent glare from direct eye contact with the bulbs.

To improve on this minimum, 4-tube, 4-foot or 2-tube, 8-foot fixtures could be substituted. The 4-tube fixtures will concentrate more light over the table, while the 8-foot fixtures will spread out the light more evenly across the entire room. Another option would be to add 2 more fixtures (Layout B). In this case you could have one fixture in the center, 1 at each end of the table and 1 lighting up the playing areas in back of the table. This would be ideal.

 

Also with only 22 feet of room, it will be difficult to play a competitive match without feeling quite hindered (only 6.5 feet of backup room for each player). That is however, an ideal amount of room for robot play. With a 9 foot table and approximately 1 foot for the depth of the robot attached to the end of the table, you would have 12 feet of backup room to practice strokes and footwork relatively unhindered if you push the table up against a wall.

I'll give you one more tip here too, although it has nothing to do with the lighting. If you have a choice of flooring, go with wood. One of the least expensive wood floors is a wood parquet floor. Home Depot and Lowes have wood parquet flooring for under $2.00/sq. ft. This is cheaper than many linoleum flooring materials. This is what I used for my TTR 3 years ago and I've been extremely happy with it.

Happy Ponging!

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Correct Wrist Position During Strokes

Newgy Robo-Pong
Question: 

I use your lessons to train with your robot. You say, in the lesson on Shakehands Grip:

"Hold the racket so the edge of the racket is perpendicular to the floor and tilt your wrist slightly down. The wrist should remain in this downward tilt position throughout all your strokes. Do not force this downward tilt, but rather let the racket naturally fall into this position by relaxing the hand muscles."

I find it very awkward to do this for forehand push. Basically, when doing forward push, the natural wrist position for me is tilted in the direction of the thumb, especially if I push down-the-line (to the right court as seen by me). Should the "downward tilt" you are talking about be always interpreted as "towards the little finger", as it is in the ready stance, or should one forget it in case of forehand push?

Answer:

Please do not let the wrist position bother you too much. It is true that many players find the "upward-tilt position" more comfortable for backspin strokes like the push. As a matter of fact, it may be preferable because this wrist position allows you to snap your wrist through the ball to apply heavy spin or not snap it, resulting in light spin.

The reason the book was written as it was is that it is intended to be guide to the basics. As such, it is much simpler, and usually leads to more consistent strokes, if the student does not use wrist when learning the strokes (except serves). Therefore, the quoted passage you sent in is a good rule of thumb when first learning the basic strokes. Once the basics are learned, however, wrist action becomes a key ingredient to many strokes at the higher levels.

Keep this in mind when you're reading our instructional manual or any other table tennis instructions. There are very few absolutes in our sport. In general, if you can consistently execute a certain shot and that technique gains you more points than you lose with it in a game, then it is OK, no matter who might declare it "bad form".

So, in this specific instance that you wrote about, your wrist position is perfectly OK as long as you can consistently perform the stroke and the resulting return doesn't cause you to consistently lose points in a game.

Thanks for writing.

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Switching From Hardbat to Sponge Rubber

Newgy Robo-Pong
Bhaskar

What kind of blade & rubber would you suggest for a ex-hardbat (orthodox pips-out, no sponge) player who wants to move on to more modern equipment? Long question: I've (re) started playing table tennis recently (recreational) after a 10+ year gap since high school, and having trouble choosing equipment.

I used to play with cheap hardbats and my game resembled a "pips-out attacker/hitter" style, i.e., I stood within a couple of feet from the table, played an attacking forehand game from both sides of the table, and used backhand (defense/keep ball in play) only when I had to. The hardbats were, as you'd expect, all control with not much speed or spin—I had to hit real hard to generate pace.

Since I'm starting afresh, I thought I'd move on from hardbats to more modern equipment, so I got myself a pre-assembled high control, medium speed/spin inverted 1.8mm rubber racket. Although I enjoyed practice rallies, during games it turned out to be too fast (had to check my shots to keep them on the table) & spinny (trouble returning opponent's spin) for my game.

Should I change to even slower inverted rubber with thinner sponge or try tricky combos like anti-spin/inverted or long-pips/inverted or short-pips/long-pips? I'm not aiming at tournaments—just a few hours per week recreational play. What I need is equipment that will enable me to enjoy my time and win a few games at the club.

Expert

Your situation is similar to the situation of a friend of mine who recently started playing again after not playing for 15 years or so. He has always used hard rubber, but was primarily a chopper. He had good pick hits from both sides but it was hard for him to sustain an attack. When he started playing again about a month ago, he tried playing hardrubber at first but soon found he was completely outgunned by the heavy spin and fast speed of modern equipment. So he decided to "modernize".

What he chose was a medium speed blade with 1.5mm pips-out sponge rubber on both sides (specifically Butterfly Rein rubber). He also decided to stay up closer to the table and hit more. This seems to have worked out for him as he keeps telling me he feels comfortable with his new paddle. However, he does have trouble controlling very spinny serves and he wants to attack heavy topspin too hard. So he's working on those two aspects.

As far as your situation, I would advise the following path:

Get a medium speed, flexible blade and cover it on both sides with 1.5mm  pips-out sponge rubber. You will want large, short pips like Butterfly Rein or Challenger. This paddle will let you get used to the feeling of sponge and the greater potential for spin that sponge promises. It will not react as severely to spin, however, so you have a better chance of returning serves and loops.

At this stage of your training, concentrate on using fluid, but lower speed strokes. Go only for hard drives and attacks when you have a slow speed "sitter" or similar easy ball. When stroking softly, you want to develop a feel for how to return a particular spin—what paddle angle are you using, what "paddle path" your stroke takes, etc.

Work on soft touch shots like drop shots, blocks, and placements. Also practice learning how to execute spinny serves, first long and fast and later, short and slow. Serves are a great way for you to become acclimated to the different feel of sponge rubber and are something you can practice with or without a partner.

As you get better at returning spins softly, then start adding speed back into your game. A wonderful drill for doing this is the soft-hard drill. Have your coach, training partner or robot give you some medium pace topspin shots. Hit your first shot with a firm but slow stroke to a predetermined spot. Your partner will return the ball back to the same spot that you had just hit your soft shot from. Your next shot will be a much harder shot (80-85% maximum power) to the same spot. Keep alternating slow with fast shots and keep the rally going for as long as possible.

You will need to be aware of the changing rhythm of this drill and the necessity of a longer preparatory period (because of the longer backswing and larger weight shift) and shorter recovery period (because the more speed you apply to the ball the faster and quicker it can be returned back to you) when you hit the ball harder. You can do this drill either forehand or backhand.

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Once you develop some confidence at returning spins and you have a feeling for the sponge, your next step will be to try an All-Round inverted rubber (like Newgy Mercury or Butterfly Flextra) on your forehand. You should immediately begin to learn how to loop with your forehand, first against pushes and long serves and later against blocked returns. The loop is a great way to initiate your attack, particularly when your opponent serves long or pushes.

On your backhand, learn how to be more aggressive with your blocks and service returns. A backhand "roll" with your pips-out is a tried and true technique for returning short or long serves, particularly if you can add a little outside sidespin. If you like this combination, you may want to try out faster, spinnier inverted rubbers once you have an initial feel for how to loop with inverted.

There are lots of different inverted sheets that produce varying amounts of speed and spin. You may want to try out a variety of them to find the one that best suits your strokes. If you belong to a TT club, you can often ask other players for their old sheets when they change rubbers as a way to try out other rubbers without risking any money.

One note of caution at this stage. Some players may advise you to use "speed glue" to increase the effectiveness of your loop. Please stay away from this type of glue until you feel like you can consistently generate good spin with your loop. Speed glue is best used to "enhance" your loop; it cannot make up for any deficiencies in your stroke.

The other danger to using speed glue is its variableness. It is hard to apply it exactly the same each time, and unless you do, your rubber will feel differently each time, making it harder to learn your strokes and stay consistent. However, once you learn your loop well without speed glue and someone teaches you a method for applying speed glue uniformly, this glue can take your looping game to the next level.

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If your game keeps progressing, you may eventually want to experiment with using inverted on your backhand. Again, start with an all-round inverted until you get a feel for the spinnier surface, then switch to more advanced surface once you feel comfortable with the all-round surface. This is where you can learn the backhand loop in the same fashion that you learned the forehand loop.

Past this stage, you can pretty much experiment with just about anything to find the exact equipment that is ideally suited to your game. I would stay away from long-pips and/or anti-topspin rubbers unless you want to develop a control or defensive style of play. These rubbers are severely limited in their offensive capabilities and prevent you from developing many strokes like loops, spin serves, lobs, etc.. Since you started off by telling me that you were an offensive-minded player, I would forego these defensive rubbers.

Bhaskar

I've thought long and hard about your excellent suggestions, and here's what I finally decided to write to you: I'd love to follow exactly what you suggested, but I'm sorry that I'm not in a position to commit the time & money required to follow it. On the time side, I can only play approx 2 hours a week at the club. On the money side, I don't think I have the resources to commit to a paddle upgrade path, or afford a coach.

What I can afford is to allocate about a hundred bucks one-time towards a new paddle, and keep playing with it. I do have a partner to practice the drills you suggested with—his skill level is very similar to mine. For coaching, I think I have to rely on the tips from the better players at the club—or perhaps read a book if you would suggest one.

Given these constraints, the first biggest decision is to choose the one right racket that I can live with for a long time and try developing my game with. Since I'm returning the "Butterfly Kyoshi" that I didn't like, I guess I'm stuck with getting only Butterfly equipment in exchange. If I'm ready to suffer defeats at first in order to develop a better game in the long run, do you think I could go with an allround racket with thin inverted sponge on both sides?

I was thinking about a Grubba Pro ALL- blade and some good 1.5mm allround rubber on both sides like Sriver, Tackifire Drive, or Tackiness Chop. Do you think this will be a big mistake? I'm sorry if I have disappointed you with my constraints, but with a full-time day job in a struggling economy and a family, there's only so much we can devote towards our hobbies.

Expert

Experimenting with equipment can be a very expensive obsession and there are so many choices available, it's hard to know where to start. You are facing three big adjustments: (1) transitioning to the rebounding effects of the sponge, (2) learning to control your racket angle more precisely because of the grippiness of the inverted topsheet, and (3) altering your strokes to take advantage of your new paddle's spin and speed producing capabilities.

You've already described the first two problems to me in your original message. When you stroked the ball with your regular hard rubber stroke, the ball went flying off the end of the table. This was primarily a result of the rebounding effects of the sponge. The sponge comes into play mostly on firmly stroked returns.

For the sponge to affect the ball, either the incoming ball needs a lot of speed or your stroke must generate the force to drive the ball past the top sheet and depress the sponge. So the rebounding effects of the sponge will usually only affect you when returning hard hit shots or you are attacking the ball with speed.

Sponge comes in many qualities but can generally be categorized by degree of softness and the amount of speed the sponge generates when it rebounds. Nowadays, many rubbers will give a softness rating with a rating of 30 being soft, 40 being medium and 50 being hard. The softness will determine how much force is required to drive a ball through the topsheet to depress the sponge.

Soft sponges are typically slow in speed, but this can be changed drastically by using "speed glue" to increase rebounding speed. Also, soft sponges typically give the best "touch" because even slower stroked shots can often drive the ball into the sponge enough that the ball's impact vibrations are transmitted to the blade.

Hard sponges, on the other hand, require very forceful strokes to drive the ball into the sponge. And the sponge will snap back very forcefully, adding still more speed to the stroke. Softer shots are primarily returned with the topsheet and typically feel "mushy" because so little of the ball impact is transmitted to the blade.

The problem you were having with returning serves is, in my opinion, due mostly to the grippiness of the topsheet. You can test the grip of the topsheet by rubbing a ball across the surface. With decent quality inverted's, the rubbed ball will practically stop on the surface; whereas, a pips out rubber will create a little amount of resistance and an anti-topspin sheet will offer very little resistance. Some of the "super-tacky" sheets, like Tackiness, are so grippy that a ball can literally "stick" to the topsheet even with the paddle turned upside down.

This grip is what causes the problem on softer shots like serve returns and pushes. The grippier the topsheet, the more precise you will need to be with your racket angle to return spins effectively. That is why I believe Tackiness or Tackifire would be poor choices. On the other hand, you do want adequate grip if you want to learn inverted strokes and how to apply high amounts of spin. So you don't want to go with anti or a very low grade of inverted (many low cost, pre-assembled inverted rackets come with such low-grip inverted rubbers attached).

Inverted strokes are quite different from hardrubber or anti strokes, so you will need a decent amount of grippiness on your racket to learn proper inverted strokes. For this reason, it is important to keep your inverted surface clean, because even a small amount of dirt or grime can alter a rubber's grip.

Likewise, keep the surface covered, out of direct sunlight, and at room temperature to preserve the grip as long as possible. Age will eventually destroy the inverted's characteristics, so you will need to replace the rubber when you notice a substantial difference between the grip at the center (where you strike the ball the most) as opposed to the grip at the edges of the rubber (where you seldom hit the ball).

Ideally, considering your background as you have described it to me, your new racket should have a fairly soft sponge to reduce the rebounding speed and transmit more vibrations into the blade (which would be more similar to hard rubber than hard sponge would offer). And the topsheet should be medium tacky at best. Butterfly's Flextra fits the bill perfectly.

Do not use speed glue at this stage of development. Regular rubber cement should be used to attach the rubbers to the blade. If you only want to buy a single racket, then I would stay with my recommendation of an all-round type of blade covered in 1.5mm high control style inverted rubber (Flextra would be best, Sriver FX would be acceptable but not ideal). Please be aware that regardless of the type of inverted you choose, you will be much more susceptible to the effects of spin on your rubber than you were with hard rubber. I would stay away from "tacky" inverted rubbers like Tackifire and Tackiness. Their grippiness will only make the transition more difficult.

The last problem you have to deal with is altering your strokes from hard rubber to inverted. This is where the real work begins. It would help tremendously to have a knowledgeable coach to guide the transition process and demonstrate correct form. In addition to a coach, studying instructional books and tapes or learning from online coaching resources will help tremendously. (Our Coaching Forum contains many good articles.) Shadow stroking at home is a time-proven, low-cost method to speed up the learning process.

If you want to buy an instructional book or tape, be sure they were published at least after 1990 to make sure you get instruction that is not outdated. Some more recent publications include:

Table Tennis From A to Z by Dimosthenis E. Messinis

Table Tennis, Steps to Success by Larry Hodges

Table Tennis 2000: Technique With Vladimir Samsonov by Radivoj Hudetz

But even with a coach, you must spend as much time practicing as possible. I would forget about playing games entirely at this stage. I recommend you concentrate fully on perfecting your form and "grooving" your new strokes. Worrying about winning or losing will only slow your progress; worry about that after you have gotten through this initial transition stage. Regular robot and/or multi-ball drills will help speed up your progress because of the large number of balls you get to return in a short period of time. If playing with a human practice partner, work on consistency first and keep the ball in play with fluid, firm strokes. Power is always developed after your medium strokes become consistent.

Bhaskar

I am trying to locate a coach or clinic or something—but it is proving difficult in my city (Pittsburgh). A friend has loaned me Scott Priess' training video. I'm trying to learn about footwork and returning to "ready" position after a shot. I chose this as my first task because I figure I can do it while playing with my current recreational paddle. Your reply was extremely helpful—especially your explanations of different types of rubbers and why I should use a less tacky soft rubber for my transition to inverted.

I had the pleasure to meet Dan Seemiller yesterday at my local club (before I read your reply) and asked him the same questions. He suggested I use plain Sriver 1.7mm on both sides on ANY blade I feel comfortable holding—his opinion was that blade is not as important as rubber and that I would get used to the extra speed & tackiness of Sriver pretty fast. I have received similar advice from several other people at the club.

However, I felt that this advice, though well meaning, is very generic and does not take my particular problems into account. After reading your email, I am now feeling much more comfortable about why I should use Flextra and not Sriver. I have received the exact same advice (using Flextra) from Scott Gordon of hardbat.com. More over, since rubber inevitably needs to be changed with time, I can upgrade to Sriver for my next rubber if I need to.

There is a problem though. I looked around for 1.5mm Flextra, but it seems Butterfly doesn't sell any thing in 1.5mm anymore. The thinnest Flextra is 1.7mm. I tried to look around for other low speed/spin rubber and it seems Juic Dany III sells in 1.5mm, but I don't know whether it has similar characteristics as Flextra. Should I stay with Flextra and play 1.7mm or would you recommend something similar from another brand in 1.5mm?

Regarding  the blade, I have three all round Butterfly blades in mind—please suggest which one will suit me best:

  1. Grubba Pro (ALL-). It has the most control of all Butterfly blades, relatively slower, oversized and the product description fits my mostly-close-to-table style—"Excellent for touch blocks, high-spin loops at the table, consistent mid-range play and the chop game from long distances". Cons: is it too slow?
  2. Andrzej Grubba (ALL+). Allround blade described as good for everything. Lightest/thinnest Butterfly wood—I liked the lightness of thin hardbats, and generally have always preferred lighter equipment in all sports I played.
  3. Primorac (OFF-). Supposedly the most popular Butterfly beginner wood, considered all-round by most even though rated OFF- by Butterfly. Some people suggested that since this is a tad faster than the Grubbas, I would probably like playing with it for a much longer time. Cons: Heaviest & least control among the three. Too fast for me?
Expert

I believe you have assessed everything correctly. Your plan for starting with a Flextra type rubber and progressing to Sriver as a next step is "right on", in my opinion.

In regards to the thinnest Flextra being in 1.7mm thickness, instead of the recommended 1.5, I do not think that would affect you very much. 1.7 Flextra should be OK. The difference would be minimal. I cannot comment about Dany III because I've never played with it, so therefore do not know its characteristics. My guess is that it would be OK because of its ratings, but I don't know for sure. I would only recommend Flextra 1.7 over Dany III 1.5 because it is a known commodity.

As far as the blade is concerned, I think that perhaps the Andrezj Grubba would be the best choice, although any of the 3 would suffice. As Danny stated, the blade is less important than the rubber. Since weight is an issue, the Andrezj Grubba gets the nod over the Grubba Pro (also I'm not a fan of the "oversize" design, except for defensive style players), and because it is more flexible with more feeling and less speedy than the Primorac, it becomes the best choice of the 3, IMO.

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Basic Strokes and Skills

Newgy Robo-Pong

The basic strokes are the "meat" of the sport. The majority of your practice time should be spent on developing your strokes until they are "grooved." You want to do them by automatic response; not thinking about the individual components of the stroke, but rather "feeling" the entire motion. Once the basic strokes are grooved, your time with the robot will be more fun and rewarding and you will be more successful against your opponents in a real match.

Newgy Robo-Pong will be especially helpful in learning, then grooving your strokes. Learn the strokes and skills in the order listed. For quickest improvement, acquire consistency with each stroke or skill before starting the next. This manual will first discuss strokes used to return topspin, then will cover strokes used to return backspin. These are followed by articles discussing serve, serve receive, and footwork all the basic skills you will need to play well.

The learning process is greatly assisted when you start slowly and simply; then gradually build up your speed, power, and touch as you become more skilled. The most common mistake of beginners is hitting the ball much too hard. Take your time and learn consistency first, power second.

When you first attempt to hit the ball, your stroke should be very small. Your racket should not travel more than 12 to 18 inches. Only after you have gained control over this short stroke and are able to make the ball go in any direction that you choose, should you attempt to perform a longer stroke.

Again, when first learning a stroke or skill, START SLOWLY AND KEEP IT SIMPLE.

Other helpful suggestions when you practice on the robot:
  1. The control settings given are estimates. Exact settings will vary from robot to robot. It may be necessary to slightly adjust the settings from the ones suggested.
  2. All photos and illustrations represent a right handed player. If you're left handed, substitute left for right and right for left in all subsequent directions.
  3. Periodically you need to turn the robot off and pick balls up from the floor and reload them into the ball return trays. The more balls you have loaded, the less often you will have to stop and pick up balls. Maximum recommended number of balls is 96-120.
  4. Remember that another ball is always coming, so don't stop to pick up a ball that gets past you. If a ball rolls by your feet or lands on the table directly in front of you, quickly brush or kick it away so it won't distract you.
  5. It is important to learn how to adjust the robot to your skill level. Start with the robot adjusted to the settings as suggested in article on the Forehand Block. When you acquire consistency at these initial settings, turn the ball frequency and/or ball speed controls up slightly. Practice at this higher speed until you feel comfortable and your strokes are consistent. Never turn the controls up to a level that causes you to lose good form. The idea is to increase the difficulty in such small increments that you hardly notice any difference. If a partner is available, have him/her turn up the controls for you very slowly until he/she notices that you begin to lose consistency.
  6. Keep a player's logbook with the date, skill practiced, the maximum settings you were able to handle comfortably, and the number of strokes or patterns you did without missing. By keeping a logbook such as this, you can accurately gauge your progress by looking at your previous maximum settings and comparing those to your current maximum settings.

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3 Basic Principals of All Table Tennis Strokes

Newgy Robo-Pong

This column discusses the use of a table tennis robot in learning ping pong strokes, styles, and techniques. Richard McAfee is one of America's most active and recognized coaches. Certified as an International Coach by USA Table Tennis, he was selected as a USOC (US Olympic Committee) Developmental Coach of the Year. He organized and directed the Eastern Table Tennis Training Center and the Anderson College Table Tennis Team. He served as the Table Tennis Competition Manager for the 1996 Summer Olympics and recently was selected as an ITTF (International Table Tennis Federation) Pro Tour Director. Currently he is Head Table Tennis Coach at the prestigious Sporting Club At Windy Hill in Atlanta, GA.

This article is unique because the information it contains impacts every stroke in the game. These concepts cut across all differences in grips, playing style, and personal technique. Strict adherence to these principals is necessary for any individual stroke to be successful.

1. Timing—When To Touch The Ball
  • There are three timing possibilities
    • As the ball is rising
    • At the top of the bounce
    • As the ball is descending
STROKE TIMING (Changes according to type of ball being struck.)
Stroke   Rising Top Falling
Counter    
Fast Loop      
Slow Loop    
Reloop Off Bounce      
Reloop, Mid-Range    
Push, Normal    
Push, Fast      
Chop      
Block Against Loop      
2. Application of Force and Friction—How to Touch the Ball
  • Force contact occurs when a forward moving racket strikes the ball. An example of this occurs when you bounce the ball straight into the air on the racket.
    • You can often hear a “wood” type of sound (hard sound).
    • Most of the energy goes into producing forward motion.
  • Friction contact occurs when you brush the ball with the racket.
    • Most of the energy goes into producing spin (ball rotation).
    • Sound is muffled (soft sound).
  • Most strokes are a blend of Force and Friction.
    • Slow Loops, serves, and pushes are maximum friction and minimum force.
    • Fast Loops are medium Force and medium Friction.
    • Counters and Kill shots are maximum Force and minimum Friction.
DIRECTION OF STROKE FORCE (Changes according to type of ball being struck.)
Type of Incoming Ball Stroke Direction
Against Topspin Down & Forward
Against Backspin Up & Forward
Against Right Sidespin To Your Left & Forward
Against Left Sidespin To Your Right & Forward
Against a High Ball Downward
Against a Low Ball Upward
3.       Ball Contact—Where to Touch the Ball
  • Most important of the 3 principals.
  • Always contact the Front of the ball.
    • Front of the ball is an area, not a specific point.
    • Front of the ball is a constantly changing area, determined by the trajectory of the ball.
    • It is the part of the ball facing the direction of travel.

Area Of Contact For Various Strokes (Changes according to type of ball being struck.)

Stroke

Contact Area On Ball

Counter Against Topspin

Above Center

Kill Against Backspin

Center

Slow Loop Against Backspin

Center Or Below Center

Fast Loop Against Backspin

Center Or Above Center

Reloop From Mid-Distance

Center Or Below Center

Reloop From Close To Table

Top

Push Against Backspin

Below Center To Bottom

Chop Against Topspin

Center Or Below Center

 Definition of "Front" and "Center" of Ball
Relationship Between the “Front” of the Ball and Stroke Timing

The area of the ball facing the direction of travel defines the “Front” of the ball. The Front does not change even if the ball is spinning. When you are aiming for a spot on the ball you must also consider the stroke timing that you are using.

Here is an example of how the contact point on the ball will change with the timing you use. Let’s assume that your opponent chops a ball to your forehand that you wish to loop. According to the chart on where to contact the ball for this stroke, the contact should be below the center of the “front” of the ball. Now look above at where that point on the ball would be when the ball is struck at the top of the bounce. Now compare how that location would change if you let the ball fall. You can see how your racket angle would have to change as your timing changes.

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The Basic Eight: A Complete Training Program In Only 55 Minutes

Newgy Robo-Pong

As a professional coach, I use my Newgy Robo Pong almost every day. I have found no more efficient teaching tool for introducing new stroke techniques to my students. In fact, many of my students have purchased a Robo Pong for home use. I have developed the following drill program to give my students a complete skills practice session in a short period of time. The program consists of eight drills. Allowing for a few minutes to reset the robot between drills and you can complete the whole program in only 55 minutes.

1. Serve Practice (5 minutes)

It may seem strange to you to start a training program off by practicing serves. However, there is no better way to warm-up your spin touch and hand skills. Simply practice your serves putting emphasis on making as much spin as possible as well as good placement. 

2. Push Practice (5 minutes)

Set your robot to produce backspin and have it oscillate over the whole table. Practice your pushes with both backhand and forehand. Direct your returns to all areas of the table. Don’t forget to vary the spin of your returns and also make both short and long returns. 

3. Loop Practice (10 minutes — 5 minutes with both FH and BH)

Set your robot for backspin and direct the ball to your backhand no oscillation. Using your forehand practice looping and direct your returns to all areas of the table. Start off by making high spin (slower) loops and progress to making faster loop drives. Repeat drill using your backhand

4. Mixed Loop and Push Practice (5 minutes).

Set your robot for backspin and have it oscillate over the whole table. Using both forehand and backhand, alternate loops with pushes. Remember to practice directing your returns over the whole table. 

5. Counter Practice (10 minutes — 5 minutes with both FH and BH)

Set your robot to produce topspin and direct the ball to your forehand with no oscillation. Start off with short blocks and gradually lengthen your stoke to produce a counter drive. Finally, finish off with full kill shots. Once again, practice directing your returns to all parts of the table. Reset the robot to direct the ball to your backhand side and repeat the drill using only backhand. 

6. Movement Drill (5 minutes)

Set your robot for topspin and have it oscillate over one half of the table. Use only forehand strokes and direct your returns to all parts of the table. Concentrate on using proper 2 step movement technique. Also, set the ball feed at a rate that puts you under pressure to move fast enough. 

7. Pivot Drill (5 minutes)

This is also a movement drill. Set your robot for topspin and direct the ball to your wide backhand with no oscillation. This drill consists of making two backhand counters or loops and then pivoting and hitting one forehand from the backhand side (repeat). Both counters and loops strokes should be practiced and your returns should be directed to all areas of the table.

8. Serve Return Drill (5 minutes)

Set your robot to produce a short underspin serve, sidespin can also be added. Oscillate the serves over the whole table. Practice making random drops, flips and long pushes. Emphasis should be placed on making good placements. Try to keep your drops very short and cut the diagonal sidelines with your flips and long pushes. 

At the conclusion of this drill program you will have practiced all the basic skills of the game. Of course your own individual style will determine which advanced skills you also need to train. Use this program several times a week and you will see a quick improvement in your overall game.

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Master Your Technique & Maximize Your Rating

Newgy Robo-Pong

Physical talent is the primary ingredient of any athlete. However, in Table Tennis physical talent alone is not enough. There are numerous Table Tennis players who possess great physical talent, although they have outstanding shots, and picture perfect styles but they never reach the heights they desire. Table Tennis competition is always changing due to conditions. Styles, equipment and the unfamiliarity of the opponents confuse, bewilder and humble the best of players when confronted with circumstances they can't adjust to. 

Many top rated Table Tennis players are flustered by some players. The reason for this perplexity is their failure to recognize the mental dimensions in their game. Therein lies the disparity separating the over-achievers from the under-achievers.

What constitutes a sound mental game can be broken down into the following qualities. Awareness and intelligence are the two most important keys to success. Good strokes and footwork can be beneficial, but the better players are quick to recognize and play to the opponent's weakness. One principle is unchanged—your paramount thought process is that the opponent's weakness dictates the proper shots to score. You win by adjusting to what the opponent permits. Perhaps you may get away with one or two shots that aren't condusive to the conditions at hand, but as a general rule, they will fail. 

Unfortunately, many aspiring Table Tennis players believe that excessive speed and spin are the answer to success. They revel at the sight of the fast spinning loop that jumps off the opponent's side of the table but they're never in position to defend the return. I refer to this as a Hollywood shot. These shots are exciting to watch but rarely lead to victory. 

A Table Tennis player's best assets are the supreme ability to spot weaknesses and the confidence to adapt their game to take advantage of match situations. Remember; Concentration, Control and Confidence are the three C's that will maximize your rating.

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Changing Traditional Teaching Methods

Newgy Robo-Pong

This will be the first in a series of articles to start building a new thought process for all Table Tennis coaches and players. When you read and digest this information, it is my hope that we open our minds and use good common sense in developing our future Table Tennis skills and stars. For a moment, I would like you to think about just what it is you have been taught and what it is that you're teaching, i.e., passing along to others. Think about the foundational process of learning motor skills and then realize that you are programming your body movements, training your mind and most importantly training your muscle memory as you learn or teach yourself this sport. Your repetitive exposure to movement develops your unique, personal, muscle memory. 

My first topic undoubtedly will create high interest and controversy with developing players and coaches throughout the country. It is specifically directed at the core of the foundation in coaching methods of today, the so-called "Ready Position"—a term that is so overbearing it shows up in book after book, clinic after clinic, and is being used today so powerfully and effectively that it permanently connects to everything you are to do, both before and while you're actually playing the point.

First, let us look at things from a reasonable position of good understanding. Isn't the ready position (having the racket arm bent at the elbow and racket pointing straight forward) just a neutral position for receiving service? You certainly cannot play a ball with your racket like that... and which one of us has exactly the same reaction time (hand/body speed) for all of us to start our movement at the same time? 

To be more specific, we establish this position to be ready to start the point. Many of you have also been told to return to the "Ready Position" after each shot. Some of you have programmed your stroke movements to even pass through this position. To the extreme some coaches have preached to not move your racket from the ready position until the ball bounces on your side of the court. In any case you probably have been told to return to the "Ready Position" after you serve, and that all shots start from the ready position. If this all has a familiar ring to it, you are beginning to get the picture. 

The reality is that this "Ready Position" is a monstrously overrated and misused term that is deeply imbedded within coaching philosophy everywhere. It is frustrating and confusing for students and in my experience actually slows down a player's stroke development, yet it continues to get used over and over in our coaching instruction throughout this country. 

Think about it. In that specific position what shot is it that you can return? How is it that a developing player can ever develop rapid shot capabilities when one has trained their muscle memory movements to visit and pass through a non-ready neutral position? How can a three-point movement possibly be as fast as a two-point movement? What kind of shot can you play when the tip of your racket head is pointing straight forward? In this so-called "Ready Position" what is it that you are truly ready for? Isn't this position just a neutral position that's ready for nothing? Isn't this just a serve return stance because you really aren't sure of what you're going to do at this time? Is it also really possible to play your best Table Tennis while staying, or being in this neutral position so much during the point? 

My opinion, based on experience, is that those who spend more time in this neutral position (the so-called "ready position") during rallies will only get hammered by the opponent that moves and anticipates his shots. Given each player had equal opportunities in training preparation, it is the individual who gets into their shot position early both maintaining playable racket positions and having designed stroke motions to incorporate rapid-fire action who will always come out on top. 

In closing, I am reaching out to the coaching community to encourage a new thought process and direction by eliminating the use of the ever -"ready position". The foundational so-called "Ready Position" has become factored and programmed into our reflex movement (muscle memory) and most all developing players have fallen victim to it and accept it because of its traditional and on going teachings. Start the process of re-thinking and re-establishing a new learning foundation. It is simply more correct and makes such clear sense to use the term neutral or serve return position. Start thinking this way and start getting into your stroke positioning early and you'll become more consistent almost overnight. The "Ready Position" is very old philosophy and is damaging your performance by being programmed into your muscle memory. 

Remember this simple concept to help in your quest to become faster and to have the ability to play high level Table Tennis with the best. Develop the proper body mechanics. Our muscle memory is programmed into the mind and body by the repetitive movements in Table Tennis. Trained reflexes are not inherent, but rather are learned by repetitive exposure to a stimulus. Keep in mind that a forward (playable) racket position is all part of proper ball contact. (More on that topic later.) 

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions and remember to exercise your anticipation and use good common sense as you keep developing your Table Tennis game. 

Barney D Reed 

Confidentiality: "Changing Traditional Teaching Methods" is a working draft and the information contained within it is forbidden to disseminate without the express written approval of Barney D Reed.

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