Advanced Aerobic Movement Drills

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Table Tennis is a demanding physical sport, requiring excellent footwork and a high aerobic capacity. Here are several advanced movement drills that will greatly increase your footwork skills, balance, leg strength, heart recovery rate, and aerobic capacity.

Warning! These are very demanding drills. Start off slowly; try to do from 8-12 repetitions of each drill. Work your way up to 24 repetitions.

Physical Setup

You will need barriers of some kind (wall or surround) placed 6' to the right and left sides of the table behind your end line and parallel to the sides of your table. Set your Newgy Robot to send an underspin ball deep to the middle of the table. Set the ball feed between 1 and 3.

Forehand Movement Drill

The concept of this drill is to execute a forehand loop, then move to your right (right-handers) and touch the barrier, then return in time to receive the next ball. Standard two-step movement should be used, do not cross your feet. Adjust the ball feed and/or the distance of the barrier to force you to move as fast as possible. Try to keep your upper body from leaning sideways while moving as it will negatively impact your balance.

Backhand Movement Drill

Same drill as above, except that you will be executing backhand strokes and moving to your left.

Up and Back Movement Drill

Set your Robot to deliver a short underspin serve to the middle of the table. Set the ball feed between 1 and 3. You will also need a barrier between 10 and 12 feet back of the table on your side (wall or surround).

The concept of this drill is to execute a forehand flip, then move back as quickly as possible and touch the barrier behind you and return for the next ball. Alternate between forehand and backhand flips. This is a great drill for defenders.

Important Note: Please remember that these are very strenuous drills. Start slowly and work your way into shape. You will quickly see an improvement in both your physical conditioning and footwork speed.

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Long Pips Attack and Defense Techniques

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Many of my senior (Over 40) students have asked me to do an article on the use of long pips, for close-to-the-table play. This style is very popular with the older table tennis players as it allows them to slow down play and to put the focus on using their hand skills rather than movement and power to win points.

Table tennis robot training is particularly useful when learning and practicing these techniques as few players can consistently attack against this style. In fact, as you are learning this style many players may become frustrated and not want to practice with you at all.

Let's take a look at the six basic strokes that should be in the arsenal of any close-to-the-table long pips player. All of these strokes are described as backhand strokes.

  • Lift against backspin: This stroke is executed with a slightly open paddle. The stroke itself is very simple. At contact, push forward and slightly up. Use mostly the forearm and little or no wrist action. This stroke, when executed with long pips, allows you to use your opponent’s backspin to produce a controlled topspin attack. This is the only stroke in which you can produce enough topspin to hit with speed.
  • Sidespin attack against backspin: This is an unusual looking stroke to most inverted players. The stroke is executed much like the straight lift against backspin, but at contact, the racket is pushed forward and pulled to the right (for right-handed players). Depending on the racket angle this return will produce a wide range of no-spin, sidespin, or light topspin returns, all with some degree of sidespin. This stroke can force many errors from your opponents.
  • Attacking backspin by pushing: Pushing with long pips can be very aggressive. While pushing, if light contact with the ping pong ball is made, the return will be a dead ball (no-spin). If harder racket contact is made (more force), a light topspin can be produced. This leads to a lot of high and very attackable returns from your opponent.
  • Controlled counter attacks: The key to attacking with long pips against topspin is to remember that controlling the speed of your returns is the key to success. Do not over-hit. Your returns will carry some backspin, so there will always be a limit on the amount of speed you can produce. Generally speaking, if you are using long pips without sponge this stroke will be quite slow and carry heavier backspin. If you are using long pips with sponge, this return will be faster but without as much spin. Once again, keep the stroke simple using only a forward pushing motion, with the forearm. Remember, when counter attacking with long pips, let the racket do the work for you. It is the ever-changing spin on your returns that will force errors from your opponent, not the speed of your returns.
  • Defensive chop blocks: This stroke looks just like its name suggests—a block with a downward chopping motion. When used against heavy topspin, this stroke can produce heavy chop returns. Often your opponent will be forced into pushing this return back, which will allow you to attack.
  • Pullback block: Once again, the name says it all. Against a topspin attack, you simply pull your racket slightly back at contact, thereby taking almost all of the pace off the ball. This can be used to produce a very short return making it impossible for your opponent to continue an attack. This technique works best with long pips without sponge.

There you have the major long pips, close-to-the-table techniques. When used properly, these table tennis strokes can make life very difficult for your opponents. Fortunately, your robot will not mind at all while you practice and perfect these techniques.

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Robot Doubles Practice Drills

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Many players find table tennis doubles competition much more fun than singles. They enjoy the “team” aspect, along with the exciting movement involved and the emphasis on ball placement. It is very true that a well-trained team can often defeat a team of higher- level players who have not practiced much together.

The table tennis robot is an excellent tool for doubles teams to work on both the areas of movement and ball placement. This is particularly true for new teams just learning how to work together. The consistent and accurate ball feed the robot provides will allow you to concentrate on the tasks at hand. Here are some drills to get you started:

Movement Drills

Set your robot to feed underspin balls to one location. Work on alternately pushing and attacking these returns and then moving out of your partner’s way. As your movement improves, have the robot feed topspin balls to one location at a higher ball frequency and then finally work on your movement against random whole table feed.

There are several different movement systems you may want to consider.

  • If your team consists of one right handed and one left handed player then the movement pattern is much easier. With both players covering the middle of the table with their forehands, each player simply moves off to the side of the table towards their backhand, leaving the table clear for their partner.
  • If your team consists of two right or left handed players then there are two main patterns used:
    1. Circular Movement—after making a stroke, each player moves off to the nearest corner and circles behind his partner to prepare for his next shot. (Editor's Note: This is often the best choice for two players who prefer to play the same general distance from the ping pong table.)
    2. In-and-Out Movement—this system features one player moving laterally, side to side (close to the table) while the other partner moves vertically, in and out (up and back). (Editor's Note #2: This type movement is usually best suited for teams composed of one player who likes to play close to the table, such as a fast attacker or blocker, and another player who likes to play away from the table, such as a chopper or mid-range looper.)
Placement Drills

One of the major strategies for doubles play is to follow your partner’s lead. By this, I mean hitting several balls in a row to the same location. It is simply hard for your opponents to both be in the same place at the same time.

Set your robot to oscillate over the whole table, and practice making a series of returns to one location. Make sure to practice making returns to both corners as well as the middle of the table.

If you are playing in USA Table Tennis tournaments and not competing in doubles events you are missing half the fun of the event. Good doubles teams are made not born and your Newgy Table Tennis Robot can be your best tool for refining your team skills.

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Drills for Learning the Penhold Reverse Backhand

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In my last article, we discussed the techniques involved in executing the Penhold Reverse Backhand. Hopefully, you have had a chance to study the accompanying videos and to practice both the counter and loop strokes. Now you are ready for some drills to help you begin to incorporate this highly effective technique into your own game. How often you will choose to use this stroke depends on two things. 

First, how competent you become in executing the strokes. You may simply want to use the Penhold Reverse Backhand as a change of pace to disrupt your opponent’s timing. Or you may find it comfortable to switch randomly between the Penhold Traditional Backhand and the Reverse Backhand. You may even become more confident in the Reverse Backhand and use it as your main stroke. 

Secondly, the style you play may determine the amount you want to use this stroke. The Reverse Backhand is ideal for the mid-distance looping game. Using this new technique helps the penhold player match the two-winged attack of the shakehands player without having to cover most of the court with the forehand. In contrast, a pips-out penhold hitter will probably use the Reverse Backhand to open points and then quickly revert to the Traditional Backhand. The possibilities for the use of this stroke are limited only by your skill and imagination.

Here are six Robot Drills to help get you started with some of the stroke combinations you might want to use. Once again, Phillip Gustavson (Atlanta, GA) is helping us by demonstrating these drills in the video clips.

Drill #1 – Alternate Traditional Backhand Pushes with Reverse Backhand Loops. 

Set your robot to deliver a long backspin ball to your backhand corner. Push two balls, and then produce a Reverse Backhand Loop. Remember to move back into the ready position after you push so that you will not be too close to the table to loop. 

Drill #2 - Continuous Reverse Backhand Counter Drives with Change of Direction.

Set your robot to deliver a long topspin ball to your backhand corner. Using the Reverse Backhand Counter, alternate your returns crosscourt and down-the-line. Remember to contact the outside edge (left side of oncoming ball for right-handers) of the ball to place the ball crosscourt. Contact the inside edge (right side of oncoming ball for right-handers) to place the ball down the line. 

Drill #3 – Mixed Traditional Backhands with Reverse Backhand Counter Drives. 

Set your robot to deliver a long topspin ball to your backhand corner. Execute two Traditional Backhand counters or blocks, then one Reverse Backhand counter. 

Drill #4 - Continuous Reverse Backhand Loop with Change of Direction. 

Set your robot to deliver a long topspin ball to your backhand corner. Using a Reverse Backhand Loop, alternate your returns crosscourt and down-the-line. Like the previous drill, remember to contact the outside and inside edges of the ball to control your placement. 

Drill # 5 – Continuous Forehand and Reverse Backhand Counters or Loops Against Random Feed. 

Set your robot to deliver long topspin returns on full oscillation. Execute continuous counterdrives or loops using your regular forehand strokes and only the Reverse Backhand stroke.

Drill # 6 - Mixed Backhand Returns with Forehand Pivot.

Set your robot to deliver a long topspin ball to your backhand corner. This is a three shot drill. First, execute a Traditional Backhand counter or block, then execute a Reverse Backhand loop or counter, then pivot into your backhand side and execute a forehand attack (hit or loop). 

Coaches Note: Start each of these drills with as slow a ball speed and frequency as necessary until you can execute the drill at an 80% success rate. Then increase the ball frequency and/or speed and repeat the drill.

These drills will help give you the skills necessary to start using the Penhold Reverse Backhand in your game. The next step is to begin working with a training partner and practicing using the stroke within the normal sequence of shots in a game. By this I mean, using the Reverse Backhand for serve returns, third ball attack, 4th ball counter-attack, and 5th ball attack.  

The Penhold Reverse Backhand has begun to revolutionize the penhold styles of play. Get in on the fun by adding this new stroke to your game. 

Good Luck. 

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The Stages Of Athletic Development

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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.

As table tennis athletes progress in table tennis, they pass through very definite stages of development. In order for students and their parents to understand where they are in this process, I created a tool called the “Table Tennis Pyramid of Success”. The Pyramid shows the nine developmental stages that athletes go through in their journey to becoming a complete player.



Table Tennis Pyramid of Success


Stage 1 – Basic Stroke Technique

At this stage, athletes are simply learning the fundamental techniques of the game such as basic strokes, elementary spin theory, simple serve and return, and the rules of the game.

Stage 2 – Basic Stroke Combinations

Once the student can control the basic strokes, the coach then begins to combine these strokes together to form combinations, bringing together both forehand and backhand techniques. This combining of strokes also requires that the student begin to move more, and lessons in footwork start during this stage. 

Stage 3 – The 5-Point System 

When the student can control the basic stroke combinations, the focus is turned to learning how to play points. As most points in a game are finished by the 5th stroke, the emphasis is placed on the first 5 possible strokes of a game. As all points must begin with either a serve or a return, these techniques are stressed during this stage. Third and fifth ball attacks are introduced, as well as 4th ball counter attacks or defense. The goal of this stage is to move the student from thinking of executing one stroke at a time, into planning out whole points. 

Stage 4 – Style Awareness 

During stage three, the student’s natural style begins to express itself. It can be seen in how the student chooses to begin putting their points together. Does the student naturally prefer to hit rather than loop? Does the student have natural early or late timing? Does the student prefer to play close to the table or at mid-distance? These and other telltale signs start to show as the student learns to play whole points. During this stage, students are introduced to the basic styles of the game through written materials and the use of videotapes. Students are told to watch the better players at their table tennis club and place these players into style categories. Finally, students write down a complete description of what they want their style to become. 

Stage 5 – Advanced Stroke Techniques 

Now that the student understands what their style will be, they must begin to learn the advanced techniques necessary to complete that style. What these techniques are will vary greatly from style to style. Pips-out hitters, all-round topspin attackers, and choppers all need to learn very different techniques. It is at this level that many athletes get stuck and do not advance. While levels 1–4 can be reached with a minimum of coaching assistance, Stage 5 really requires the personal services of a competent coach. 

Stage 6 – Advanced Stroke Combinations 

Once these advanced techniques are learned, they must be combined with the student’s existing strokes and blended into the desired style of play. During this stage, the 5-Point System is revisited and practiced using the new combination of advanced strokes. Again, this stage requires a lot of personal attention from the coach to keep the student on track. 

Stage 7 – Self-Awareness 

At this stage, the athlete has all the physical tools necessary to execute their desired style of play. The focus at this level of development is on gaining match experience and learning how to use their style to defeat opponents. As the athlete is still somewhat inexperienced, they are focused more on what they are attempting to do than on what their opponent is doing. The student has become self-aware but does not yet focus outward towards their opponent. 

Stage 8 – Refining Style

As athletes begin to gather more and more match experience, they will continually make small corrections and additions to their style of play. Ideally, athletes will return to this stage over and over again throughout their competitive life. When an athlete stops learning and improving their game, their development is over.

Stage 9 – Full Awareness

This is the stage of development that all athletes strive for. It is often called “the peak experience”. During this stage, the athlete is almost totally focused outside himself. Fully aware athletes often report feelings of time moving slower, the ball appearing larger, and feeling that they can do anything they want to with the ball. While most athletes experience this “peak experience” at some point in their lives, the fully aware athlete can reproduce this experience much more often. 

Important Points 

Please remember that an athlete’s development does not follow rigid, set stages. Rather, it flows as a process with each athlete spending more or less time in any one stage, as needed. Movement is not always in an upward direction. Sometimes, an athlete will need to return to a lower stage to correct some problem or learn material that was missed. 

Most coaches feel that it takes about ten years of training to take an athlete to the top of their game. Hopefully, the Table Tennis Pyramid of Success will give you a guide to understanding your own development in reaching your goals. While many try to become champions, only a few actually make it. For that reason, I always stress to students, “that the quality of your journey is more important than your destination”.

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