Attacking Half-Long Serves

Newgy Robo-Pong

While most players try their best to serve short, it is inevitable, especially during extremely tense moments of a match, that the serve unintentionally goes half-long. Capitalizing on this mistake can be the difference between winning and losing. 

The difficulty with attacking this type of serve is recognizing that the serve is indeed actually going to bounce off the end of the table. Not attacking long serves is a common mistake that nearly every player is guilty of.

The first thing that needs to be done is to train the eye. If you cannot determine almost immediately that the serve is going to bounce long, you will be indecisive when returning the serve. The only way to improve this is practice against thousands of half-long balls. 

Using the Newgy Robot: 

Place the head of the robot downwards to make the bounce the same as a serve. Make sure that every ball is bouncing slightly off the edge of the table. If you are concerned about hitting the edge of the table with your racket, increase the speed of the ball to have it come off the end of the table a little farther. In the beginning use the lowest backspin setting and the placement should be in one spot on the table (i.e., a half-long serve to the backhand). The repetition of the balls should give you enough time to start in ready position, attack the serve, and then completely return to the ready position. 

(Editor's note: this translates into a Ball Frequency setting of only 1–2. See Short Returns Of No-Spin Serves for additional editor's notes on setting up your robot for serve practice. ) 

The Drill: 

When returning serves, the first movement should be to set up for an attack, as if you know the serve is coming out long. The reason for this is that it is much easier to step in if the serve turns out to be short rather than long. If you step in first and then the serve turns out to be long, you will most likely be making the common mistake of pushing a long serve because you haven't allotted enough time to see if the ball is going to come off the end of the table. 

Keep your body as low as possible because you will be striking the ball when the ball is on its descent. The follow through should be forward and well over the table. Don't be nervous about hitting the table, after lots of practice you will be attacking serves that barely come off the edge of the table with confidence and little concern of striking the table. 

Attacking these types of balls will give you an offensive advantage and put tremendous pressure on your opponent to keep his serve short. The added pressure often results in unintended half-long serves. So keep the pressure on!

Good Luck!
Eric Owens

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Adjusting Backspin When Learning To Loop

Newgy Robo-Pong
Question: 

How much backspin do you recommend to put on the ball so that I am able to practice looping off of backspin?

Answer: 

When learning to loop backspin, I would suggest the following settings in progression: 

Head angle "C", Ball Speed 2.75. Ball should bounce on robot's side of table first, clear the net by about 2 inches, and then land about a foot or foot and a half from your end of the table.

Head angle "F", Ball Speed 3. Ball should clear net by 8 to 12 inches and land about a foot from the end of the table. Ball lands first on player's side of the net.

Head angle "E", Ball Speed 4. Ball should clear net by 1 to 2 inches and land about a foot from the end of the table. Ball lands first on player's side of the net.

Be sure you can consistently loop the ball at each setting before trying to use the next setting. Setting 3 simulates a hard driving heavy chop return of a good loop. Setting 1 simulates a long low chop serve. Also please realize that these settings will vary slightly from robot to robot so start with these suggested settings and then modify from there. 

Another setting you may want to try after level 3 is to take the robot off the table, set it on the ground or a Robo-Caddy about 8 to 10 feet in back of the table and have it deliver backspin balls from this distance. You'll have to experiment to get the exact head angle/ball speed settings but you want the balls to land close to your endline. This is a better simulation of a typical return by a chopper, but you lose the ball catching ability of the net system. 

Good luck!

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Learn About Spin To Improve Your Game

Newgy Robo-Pong
Question: 

The amount of spin the thing (Newgy Robo-Pong robot) puts on the ball seems nearly overwhelming to me. I can adjust it to top, right, left, bottom and so on, but there is no way to turn it off, or adjust the degree of spin-only the direction. Being an inexperienced player, I don't really know if I should anticipate this much spin from normal human recreational players.

I'm wondering if this is a real drawback to this device. On the other hand, maybe it will prepare me for tough players. 

Answer:  

I agree that the spin that the robot produces can be considered severe by those players not used to returning strong spins. Spin is a very important part of table tennis. Spin is used to both win points outright and to make it more difficult for the opponent to be offensive. All top players are masters of spin; whereas, most recreational players have little knowledge of how to spin the ball severely and/or return severe spin. The biggest difference between recreational players and tournament players is that tournament players produce and respond correctly to spin. 

Newgy Robo-Pong robots were made to simulate typical tournament play. In this regard, every ball coming from the robot will have spin on it. While the amount of spin may seem severe to recreational or novice players, it is quite normal, if not somewhat less than normal, for advanced players.

If you want to improve your skill level, and I assume you do since you bought a robot, then the strategy should be to learn how to stroke the ball like the top players do (with spin) rather than continue to stroke the ball as recreational players do (without spin). If you will follow the lesson plans in the Instructional Manual that came with your robot, you will learn how to return the different spins by changing your paddle angle and then how to produce your own spin by learning the various strokes. 

Once you learn how to produce strong spins, your recreational opponents will be at your mercy. Their return options will be severely limited by the type of spin you put on the ball. They will mis-return many balls or give you plenty of weak shots that you can then attack. I encourage you to hang in there and keep working on your game, striving to emulate the way top players play. I know it can be frustrating at first because it is a whole new way to play from the way you're used to playing the game. The end result though, is that you will become a much stronger player if you learn to deal with spin correctly instead of shying away from it. 

If you still choose to limit the spin capabilities of the robot, there is something you can do, but it will also reduce the speed of the ball as well. All you have to do is remove the Friction Block in the head and glue or attach a spacer at the top of both Friction Block tabs. The object is to move the Friction Block away from the wheel so there is less "pinch" on the ball as it passes between these two parts. I would suggest trying something about 1mm in thickness at first and then going up or down from there until you find the desired reduction in speed and spin.

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Controlling Amount Of Spin From Your Robot

Newgy Robo-Pong
Question

I received the Robo-Pong 1040 that I ordered from you last week. I got it set up and running and find that it works very well. It is more user-friendly, more consistent and more trouble-free than the $1000+ one I had 10 or 12 years ago. It is very easy to control the type of spin, the speed, the ball frequency and the oscillation of this robot. I have enjoyed hitting with it and I'm sure will find it very useful when coaching.

I have one question that you may be able to help me with; is there any way to control the amount of spin? When it tosses topspin, it pretty much is at a loop level; when it tosses backspin, it simulates a pretty severe chop. In the reality of table tennis play, topspin varies from almost no-spin (so-called "dead ball") to the extreme produced by the best of the loopers; backspin varies from near no-spin to the extreme you see from some good pushers or choppers. I have the impression that there is no way to vary the amount of spin the Robo-Pong 1040 produces (only the kind of spin). Is that correct? Does speed variation have any significant effect on the amount of spin? Does distance you set the robot from the player have any effect on the amount of spin (that is, will tossing the balls from well behind the table affect it)? Is there any way to get the machine to toss a nearly dead ball?

Thanking you in advance for your attention to these questions,

Ray Miskimins
USATT Certified State Coach

Answer

Ray,

Thank you for purchasing a Newgy Table Tennis Robot and for your kind comments. To answer your questions about controlling spin on the Newgy robot, here are some resources that discuss this issue on our website:

Robot FAQ's

Learn About Spin To Improve Your Game

Adjusting Backspin When Learning To Loop

Also read the "Robot Positioning" section on page 12 of the Owner's Manual that came with your robot. (Click Here to download a PDF version of the Robo-Pong Owner's Manual) It will explain how to position your robot and the advantages and disadvantages of each position. Also the "Ball Spin" section on page 8 is worth reading to better understand how to adjust the spin settings on the robot and the limitations imposed by the robot's design.

Since speed equals spin with Newgy robots, the lightest spin you can get with a Newgy robot is at Ball Speed setting of 0. You will then need to adjust the robot's position and head angle to achieve the desired trajectory. If you have the robot mounted at the end of the table so the ball first strikes the table about a foot and a half from the table net, the ball will bounce over the table net, and by the time it bounces on the player's side, there will be little spin left on the ball. Of course, the ball will be very slow as well. Use topspin if you want the ball to go off the end of the ping pong table or backspin if you want the ball to bounce twice on the player's side of the table.

There is one other thing you can do to simulate dead balls and other such variations. Build a device that has a 6 inch by 6 inch flat surface that can be placed on your table tennis table and be adjustable from about 15 to 60 degrees. Cover the top of this device with some type of rubber cover and place it in front of the robot on your ping pong table. Put your robot in the serve position and aim the head at the ramp. By using different covering materials, such as regular inverted, sticky inverted, sponge only, hard rubber, pips out with sponge, long pips, and other like materials, you can achieve an interesting variety of ball effects. For each different material you will have to experiment with the head angle, the ramp angle, and the ball speed setting to get it to simulate the type of shot you want to practice against.

Good luck.

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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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Drills To Control Over-Aggression

Newgy Robo-Pong
Question

I have two students who are making great promise, but they both often try to play too aggressively (they probably get it from me...I have that problem too).

Are there some drills that you use that are "standard" for working on shot selection and showing them that they do not need to hit the ball all that hard...that they just need to keep control of the point?

Answer

If you have a Newgy Robot, hook up a Pong-Master game to it and have your students compete against each other to see who can get the best scores. You can make it fairly easy or hard enough that even world-class players cannot beat it. To be a good Pong-Master player, you must have good concentration, consistent technique, and absolute control over your strokes. It's also a really fun game to play.

I have run Pong-Master contests at US Opens where we had many top US and a few world-class players enter the contest. Inevitably, the player with the most consistent strokes and possessing a calm demeanor and great concentration would win. Also the game promotes a relaxed, flowing stroke and the ability to relax under pressure. It becomes pretty obvious after a few games, that any excess tension in one's stroke or any nervousness in one's mind will affect the accuracy of your strokes.

The skills that your students will learn from becoming good Pong-Master players are many of the same skills that they will need to acquire to become better tournament players.

The other thing I have noticed from our demonstrations over the years is that without the Pong-Master game, many players only seem to want to try to hit the ball as hard as they can when it's their turn to try out the robot. This, of course, resulted in balls flying all over the place, much to the chagrin of our fellow exhibitors. However, as soon as we started using the Pong-Master game, we would quickly explain the basics of the game, and when the player started returning the ball, they would automatically begin using a controlled stroke in an effort to hit the target and score points. "Wild" shots were enormously reduced.

Another coach I know would place packs of gum or other such enticements on the robot's side of the table and have his students aim for the prize. If they hit it with the ball, then they got to keep the prize.

Either way, the students should have something exciting to focus their attention on and be immediately rewarded for controlled play. Also demonstrate a relaxed, controlled stroke to them to show how much more accurate you can be using such a stroke and constantly remind them to relax and let their strokes "flow.

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Integrating Robot Practice Into Your Training

Newgy Robo-Pong
Statement: 

… (a) robot is more suitable for junior players to develop basic stroke and footwork skills to (increase) consistency and accuracy. An obvious element to note is that (a) robot doesn't deliver any surprise (though it can feed random shots) and subtlety is always expected in a human game. The lack of (the) human factor decides that (a) robot is not terribly favored at (the) professional level. But it does help when you cannot find a practice partner, e.g., you need to play everyday and there isn't another player available.

Answer: 

It all depends on the knowledge of using the product. I would agree partly with what the previous two posts have said. In general, as your ability increases, the importance of a robot in your training program lessens. The greatest aid of the robot is in perfecting strokes. As Barney Reed said, this takes quality and quantity. There is no more useful device for concentrated practice than a robot. It is available anytime, never gets tired or complains, is always precise, and (at least in the case of Newgy robots) is easy to set up, use, and maintain. It is rare indeed that strokes are perfected much below the 2400-2500 level, so the robot is always useful for its primary purpose up to a very high level.

A robot's usefulness varies not only with the general playing ability of a player, but also with the type of training required during a particular phase of training. Most high level players have a fairly regimented training season. They first pick out a specific goal that they want to achieve at the end of the season (e.g., win the world championships). Then with their coach, they develop a training program that will lead them to their best chance for attaining that goal.

This training program begins with a lot of physical workouts and a lot of drills to shore up weak points in the player's game. This is the point in a player's training program that the robot will be the most useful. As the training season develops, physical training and rote practice become less important, as the player begins to incorporate the improved physical fitness and newly strengthened skills into matchlike situations. Towards the end of the training season, there is very little physical training or rote practice but a lot of stiff competition and honing of skills to enable the player to perform at his peak come "judgement day". After "judgement day", there is a rest period, then the cycle starts again. This is known as "periodization."

One of the problems with using robots is that not a lot of knowledge about how to use them has been shared among players, and to an even larger degree, coaches. Barney has developed several innovative drills that his son, Barney Jr. (2500+) still uses today. Richard McAfee has also developed several unique applications for the robot in his many years of coaching. I've even heard of some coaches who refuse to accept a student until s/he purchases a robot and table so they can practice more often and "memory train" their muscles and nervous system quicker. As this knowledge is shared among coaches, and they begin to understand how to integrate robots better into a player's training program, I am positive that you will see more and more use of these training devices even on a world-class level.

For instance, the use of the robot for physical conditioning of athletes has been largely ignored. With a robot, a player can practice table tennis while getting a tremendous aerobic workout. This is because the robot enables constant stroking and footwork without stopping. (Aerobic Conditioning requires, in general, non-stop movement of at least 20 minutes.) I personally have done this while having my heart rate monitored and I get just as good of an aerobic workout on my Newgy robot as I do running. It's a whole lot more fun and is also developing tt specific skills at the same time.

Running, on the other hand, is a good aerobic conditioner, but does little if anything for a player's tt game. Almost all tt athletes (including most all world-ranked ones) run to increase/maintain aerobic fitness. Why? Because that is they way "it's always been done." They can get the same aerobic benefits while continuing to hone their strokes and footwork if they use a robot. They don't because they have never been trained that way and their coaches have never considered using robots in that fashion. (I suppose they could do the same thing with multi-ball, but I pity the poor coach that has to serve multi-ball for 20-60 minutes without stopping!)

What we're now seeing in the USA is athletes like Barney J. Reed, David Fernandez, and Keith Alban rising to the top and who have gotten there thanks in part to the heavy use of robot training early in their careers. The robot has been one of the primary factors in their rapid advancement.

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Using your Robot To Practice Serve Return

Newgy Robo-Pong
Question: 

How can I use my Newgy robot to practice the return of services?

I realize that the robot can't conceal the spin, but I am referring to the settings on top or backspins ? What speed setting should be used to simulate a likely serve? Top and backspin with or without sidespin?

Answer: 

Thanks for writing. Serve receive is one of the most difficult aspects of modern table tennis. So you are wise to want to strengthen this part of your game. Fortunately, the Newgy Robot can be very helpful in improving your serve receive skills. Please read the following articles for some tips and suggested drills to develop stronger serve receive skills.

Serve Receive 

How To Effectively Return Short Services

As with all robot practice, please be aware that the robot is most useful at helping you to practice actual strokes. In this regard, you can quickly learn correct paddle angles and stroke motions to return almost any combination of spin, speed, and placement.

Another tip you can use to make the robot better simulate a particular serve you are having trouble with is to place your robot in a Robo-Caddy. Then drop down the caddy so that the discharge hole of the robot is around 6 inches above the table surface to decrease the serve angle and keep the ball lower to the net. You may also want to move the robot away from the center of the table to better reproduce the ball path that a serve would typically take from the server's backhand corner, for instance.

Whenever practicing serve return, you must act like you do not know what serve the robot is going to serve. So, in this regard, you must make yourself return to a neutral serve position in between each stroke. Your neutral serve position should enable you to quickly move into a good position to cover the entire possible serve angles and return serves that are short or long and fast or slow. And, as you noted, using the robot's oscillator will help to simulate the wide variety of serves that are possible.

Once you have the required skill to return the robot's serves effectively, it will then be necessary to continue to work on these skills with a coach or training partner. Your coach or practice partner should vary serves in a controlled manner so that you can then work on reading the server's motion to ascertain what spin s/he is applying to the ball and then selecting the correct stroke motion to return that serve effectively.

Your coach/training partner should start by giving you serves that are very robot-like and telling you what spin they are applying to the ball. Gradually, s/he makes the serves increasingly difficult and begins to NOT tell you what spin is on the ball. Eventually, s/he will serve to you just like s/he would do in an actual tournament match, where s/he is trying to make you miss every serve. At any time in this development process, if you find yourself missing more returns than you're making, you should back up, simplify the drill, increase your success rate again, and then redo the drill you were having trouble with.

Practicing serve return should be part of your everyday practice. But it is especially important before a tournament. Allot more time to the practice of these skills in the weeks immediately preceding a tournament.

Good luck.

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The Push

Newgy Robo-Pong

All the previous drills have been performed against topspin. Now you need to learn how to return backspin effectively. The easiest stroke to use to return a backspin shot is the push. The push, like the block, is a very simple and easy stroke. It is, however, a very important part of the game and must be mastered.

The push is typically used when the opponent gives you a backspin return that is so well placed that you cannot attack it safely. The push is then used to keep the ball in play until a better opportunity for attacking comes along.

The main purpose of the push is not so much to win the point, but to return it accurately and safely. For this reason, concentrate on developing good touch and control on your pushes, and forget about power and speed.

A push stroke is performed using an open racket angle and contacting the ball somewhere between the center and the bottom. Stroke motion is from high to low in a forward direction. This motion and the open racket angle result in applying your own backspin to the ball. The push is a relatively slow speed stroke with only a small amount of gentle acceleration. It is performed very close to, or often, actually over the table. The point of contact is after the top of the bounce, as the ball is falling.

Lesson 17: Backhand Push

To learn the push, change the spin setting of your robot to backspin. Decrease the ball speed to 2, the ball frequency to 3, and turn the oscillator off when the robot head lines up with the middle of your backhand court. The head angle should be set to "C".

Turn the robot on and practice pushing with your backhand. Stroke mainly with the forearm, keeping the elbow and upper arm relatively still. At first your returns will likely keep going into the net because of the effect of the backspin. Keep opening up your racket angle and aim for the bottom of the ball. Contact is light, almost like you are trying to slice the bottom off the ball. If the ball keeps going into the net it may be necessary to lift your elbow somewhat as you make contact with the ball.

When you get the ball to clear the net, keep the push as low over the net as you can. Don't push hard or fast. Rather, use a soft, guiding touch with your push so you can place it accurately. Regain the ready position after each stroke.

When you get the feel for the push, practice until you can push 50 crosscourt, 50 down-the-line, and 25 patterns of alternating crosscourt and down-the-line pushes without missing. Gradually increase the frequency up to 4 and the ball speed up to 3. After reaching your upper limit, turn the unit off and set the sweep control levers to sweep within the backhand court and practice your backhand push with the ball moving around randomly.

Photo: Backhand Push (Crosscourt)

Notice that the speed of the racket is constant. The even spacing between images indicates a smooth, flowing stroke. Also note the small step forward with the with the right leg and how the upper body is tilted forward so the elbow hangs in front of the body.

Images 1 & 2 (almost completely overlapping): End of back swing. Racket was open.

Image 3: Forward swing. Racket angle has not changed. Right leg begins to step forward at the same time as the forearm begins to push the racket forward.

Image 4: Just after ball contact. Racket tip is starting to rotate forward.

Image 5: Follow through.

Image 6: End of stroke. Arm is almost completely extended forward. Right leg has (as shown by position of face). Racket tip is pointing forward

Lesson 18: Forehand Push

The forehand push is the next stroke to learn. Like the other forehand strokes, contact the ball to the side of and slightly in front evenly distributed on both legs. Push the racket towards the bottom of the ball by straightening out the forearm. At the same time, take a small step forward after ball contact.

The racket head should rotate around so it is pointing forward at the end of the stroke. It may help to bend your upper so you can better see the bottom of the ball. Regain the ready position between each stroke.

Practice the forehand push at slow speed and frequency until you can consistently push 50 in a row crosscourt, then down-the-line, and finally, alternating crosscourt and down-the-line. Increase the frequency to 4 and the ball speed to 3. Next, practice the push with the robot set to sweep within the entire forehand court. Then change the control levers so the robot sweeps the entire table and practice combining forehand and backhand pushes. Recover to the ready position after each stroke and before moving to the next stroke. Your goal is 50 consecutive pushes without missing.

Photo: Forehand Push (Crosscourt)

Notice the upper body has been tilted to the right and the right leg steps in as the ball is stroked.

Image 1: End of back swing. Racket has been taken back by pulling the forearm back. Racket angle is open.

Image 2: Forward swing. Racket angle has not changed. Right leg begins to step forward at the same time as the forearm begins to push the racket forward.

Image 3: Just before ball contact Racket tip is starting to rotate forward.

Image 4: Follow through. Forearm and upper arm continue to push the racket forward and the racket tip continues to rotate around.

Images 5 & 6: End of stroke. Arm has been almost completely extended been lowered slightly (as shown by position of face). Racket tip is pointing forward. Stroke could actually have ended at Image 5. Racket movement between 5 and 6 is unnecessary.

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Looping Against Backspin and Topspin

Newgy Robo-Pong

Many players would say that you aren’t really playing table tennis until you learn to loop. A loop in table tennis is an offensive stroke with the primary purpose of producing lots of topspin. Table tennis is a game of spin, and the loop is the primary example of using spin during a rally.

Many players (and coaches) feel a player should be able to hit many, many forehands & backhands, and reach a relatively high level of play, before learning to loop. Nothing could be more outdated. By the time a player has reached a relatively high level of play, the player’s strokes and major habits are set. If looping isn’t among those habits, it’ll be more difficult to learn later on. The moral is: it’s rarely too early to learn to loop. (For the purposes of this article, I will be mostly discussing the forehand loop. Against backspin, you may also use a backhand loop. Against topspin, however, the backhand loop is normally learned later on — although some may consider that to be outdated!)

This doesn’t mean that a complete beginner should be looping on his first day. However, once a player can hit a moderately good forehand with moderately good technique, he’s ready to begin the process of learning to loop, even as he continues to develop his other basic strokes. A player shouldn’t think of a loop as an advanced shot; it’s simply another shot, one that should be taught shortly after learning the basic forehand and backhand drive (also known as counter or counter-drive) strokes. The shot also adds excitement and variety to a player’s game, turning a basement player into a dedicated table tennis addict. 

A beginner should start out looping against backspin, for three reasons. First, it’s more natural, as you are simply adding to the spin, rather than trying to change it. Two, the ball is traveling more slowly than a topspin (usually), and so is easier to learn against. Three, any player with sponge should learn to loop at least against backspin (even pips-out players), so this shot will be part of any player’s arsenal eventually. A player should learn to loop both forehand and backhand against backspin. 

A robot gives a player a huge advantage in learning to loop. With a live player, you may be able to loop one ball against backspin, but then most players will block the ball, and the rally becomes a topspin rally. It’s hard to get much repetitive practice against backspin this way. Even if you practice with a chopper (who returns ball after ball with backspin), the various returns will have varying amounts of backspin and will not always come to the same spot, making it difficult to learn to loop. It’s hard enough trying to get the stroke right, the contact right, and keep the ball on the table. The last thing you want when you are learning to loop is for the incoming ball to keep changing its placement and degree of spin!

With a robot, a player can loop against the same backspin ball over and over, developing the stroke. Always remember that Correct Techniques + Constant Repetition = Well-Developed Strokes. 

Once a player can loop against backspin, he’s ready to loop against topspin. This can be done either on a robot or against a living opponent who blocks. However, the robot has two advantages. First, it will give you a consistent ball, coming out at the same speed, direction and spin over and over, enhancing the learning process. Second, it allows a player to switch back and forth between looping against topspin and backspin, so both techniques can be developed together. 

Many players learn to loop well against one type of spin (topspin or backspin), but not the other. This usually has to do with the shoulders. Against backspin, drop the back shoulder (right shoulder for right-handers, left shoulder for left-handers) when forehand looping. Against topspin, shoulder should only drop slightly, if at all. By switching the robot back and forth between these two spins, you can develop proper shoulder placement for both shots. 

What is the difference between forehand looping against backspin versus topspin? Against backspin, the key is lifting the ball up, due to the backspin. You have to get very low by bending your knees, get your racket down, drop your back shoulder, and drive upward. The ball must be contacted on its very back, after letting it drop to about table level or even lower. Your force should go roughly toward the ceiling above your opponent’s head, NOT toward the other side of the table. 

Against topspin, footwork is more important. The ball is coming at you faster, and the ball’s speed and spin make the ball rebound off your racket faster. You still need to get down some, but now your power is mostly forward. The knees bend only slightly, and the back shoulder stays up. The ball should be contacted toward the top, usually just after the top of the bounce, but before the ball has dropped to table level. 

Here are a few drills for developing the loop on a robot. 

Beginners

The priority here is learning the stroke and proper contact. Start off by setting the robot on backspin in one spot, and practice it over and over, preferably with some input from a coach or player. Sometimes practice looping from the forehand side or middle, other times loop the forehand from the backhand side. Make sure to drive upwards, and just graze the ball. The goal is spin, not speed. A beginner should also try backhand looping against backspin.

When you feel comfortable looping against backspin, practice forehand looping against topspin. After all the lifting against backspin, your first few loops will probably go off the end. Try contacting the ball on the very top, drive forward, and keep your back shoulder up.

Intermediate Players 

You’ve learned to loop, but want to loop even better. You should be forehand looping against both topspin and backspin, with slow, medium and fast loops, from and to all parts of the table. That’s 24 types of loops to practice already! (Not including backhand looping.) Get with it! (Intermediate players should also try the footwork drills given next for advanced players.) 

Advanced Players 

It’s time to throw in some footwork and randomness. Set the robot to sweep 50-75% of the table (both backspin and topspin ), and try looping them all with your forehand. (If you have a backhand loop, you may use that as well for some shots.) You should be able to cover more of the table against the slower-moving backspin. You might even try covering the entire table against backspin — if you’re very quick and very brave.

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