Increase Consistency And Precision

Newgy Robo-Pong

Here is a great tip if you find that your stroke is too big. Normally, the bigger your swing the less consistent you are. The Newgy Robot can help you develop shorter more precise swings. Place the large target at the center back of the table. Put the ball speed somewhere between 4 to 6 depending on your level and frequency, 4 to 5. Make the target worth 1 point and set the game time to 1 or 2 minutes. Go ahead and use your normal strokes and see how you score. If you win, note by how much you win by and if you lose, note how much you lost by. Now try it again except this time stay close to the table the whole time and put this in the front of your mind. (SHORT, CONTROLLED, and QUICK strokes). If you stick with this you will begin to notice that you are beating the robot by a larger margin as you progress in time. I have used this theory with the different size targets at different locations on the table. I can still generate plenty of pace and spin on the ball using shorter strokes. The biggest benefit of all is consistency. Good luck to all!

(Editor's Note: Nick is using the optional Pong-Master target game in this drill.)

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Correct Wrist Position During Strokes

Newgy Robo-Pong

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?


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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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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Newgy Robo-Pong

The robot is also a handy machine to use when practicing serves. Turn the machine off and put all the balls into a shallow tray. Place the tray at your end of the table and practice serving into the robot's net. By using the collection net to catch your serves, you won't have to pick up as many balls from the floor when you're ready to refill your serving tray.

Before beginning to practice serves, let's cover some of the most commonly misunderstood rules concerning the serve.

  1. The ball must be placed in the stationary, flat, open palm of the hand. It must remain behind the end line or its imaginary extension and above the level of the table top. The ball does not; however, have to remain between the two sidelines or their imaginary extensions.
  2. The ball must be thrown near vertically upwards at least 6 inches and then struck as it is descending from the peak of its trajectory.
  3. The ball and the racket must remain above the level of the playing surface from the time the hand is stationary to the time contact is made with the ball.
  4. When the ball is struck it shall be behind the server's end line but not farther back than the part of the server's end line.
  5. The ball must first hit on the server's side of the table, pass directly over or around the net and its supports, then touch the receiver's side of the table.
  6. If the ball touches the net or its supports after having first landed on the server's side of the table and then landing on the receiver's side of the table or touching the receiver's racket without having touched anything else first, the serve is a "let" and is served over. There is no limit to the number of lets one can serve.
  7. Once the ball is tossed up, the ball is in play and the server must serve. If he stops his serve, even if he does not swing at the ball, he loses the point. Likewise, he loses the point if he swings at the ball and does not contact the ball.

It is beyond the intent of this manual to cover all the different kinds of serves. Indeed, a whole book could be written on the many types of serves that are possible. We will divide our discussion into four types of basic serves: the backhand topspin serve, the forehand backspin serve the backhand right sidespin serve, and the left side spin serve. These are serves I found to be the most effective and easily learned.

Starting Position For Backhand Serves

This is the basic position from which all backhand serves discussed later in this book will start from. Note the ball laying flat in the open palm of the left hand, which is placed about 8-10 inches in front of the stomach. The left forearm is parallel to the ground. The racket is placed directly behind the ball on top of the left wrist.




Lesson 20: Ball Toss

Before beginning to serve, you should practice the ball toss. Place the ball in the open, flat palm of your left hand. Your left forearm should be parallel to the floor, your wrist straight, and the left hand about 8-10 inches in front of the stomach. Now practice tossing the ball up so it stays in line left hand return to its starting position and the ball should fall back down in your palm. Practice until you can do this without missing.

Lesson 21: Backhand Topspin Serve

Once you can consistently toss the ball up straight and have it come right back down into your hand, it's time to learn the backhand topspin serve. Position yourself in a slightly sideways stance facing to your left behind the left comer of the table as shown in Photo 18. Now toss the ball up and after allowing it to begin descending from its peak, push your racket into the ball with your right forearm. Before impact close the racket angle enough to direct the ball down into the table near the left comer on your side. Stop when the tip of the racket is pointing forward. This short stroke can be seen in images 3 & 4 in. After you are proficient using this short stroke serve, you may use the entire motion.

Notice the left facing stance, the bend of the the way of the racket coming forward. Stroke is performed mainly by rotating the forearm around the elbow from left to right.

Images 1 & 2 (overlapping): End of backswing. 

From the basic starting position, the racket is taken back with the forearm until it barely touches the left upper arm. 

Image 3: Just before ball contact. Forearm pushes racket forward and slightly closes the angle. The ball is controlled 6-8 inches above the level of the table. 

Image 4: Follow through. Forearm continues forward, rotating at the elbow so the tip of the racket points 

Images 5 & 6: End right. Racket finishes at of swing. Forearm continues shoulder height. Notice how to rotate at the elbow causing the upper arm and elbow have the racket tip to point to the remained relatively still.

To increase the speed of the serve by taking a backswing and using a longer follow through.Start slowly, serving the ball crosscourt, and build up your speed. Practice serving to all parts of the table but emphasize a crosscourt serve that travels from your left comer and lands deep in the receiver's left comer. Keep the serve low over the net. To this end, it will help if you contact the ball just above the level of the table. The higher above the table you contact the ball, the higher it will bounce and the less speed you can apply to your serve.

Once you can execute this backhand topspin serve confidently, practice assuming the ready position immediately after you finish your service follow through. In particular, be sure to pull your right leg back around to assume the ready position, instead of remaining in your left facing stance. You want to get into the proper ready position rapidly in order to cover your exposed forehand comer. Make returning to the ready position a part of your service motion. Practice until you can do 25 in a row without missing.

Starting Position For Forehand Serves

This is the basic position from which all forehand serves discussed later in this book will start from. Note the ball laying flat in the open palm of the left hand, which is placed about 12 inches in front of the stomach. The left forearm is parallel to the ground. The racket is placed directly behind the ball with the bottom edge lightly touching the side of the left hand.




Lesson 22: Forehand Backspin Serve

The next serve to learn is the forehand backspin serve. Take a sideways stance to the right about two feet in back of the middle of your forehand court. Assume the starting position for a forehand serve as shown in Photo 19. Toss the ball up and at the same time pull the right forearm back and up to about shoulder height. As the ball descends, release the forearm and let the racket slice into the ball about halfway between its center and bottom. Continue to follow through until the racket ends up in front of your left hip. This motion feels very similar to chopping a tree with a hatchet. As a matter of fact, some players refer to this serve as a "chop" serve.

After you get a feel for this serve, work on keeping it low to the net and short, so it bounces twice on the other side of the table. Strive to graze the ball very finely to produce good spin. To increase the amount of spin, add wrist motion to the forearm snap. This serve is seldom done fast and hard; but rather, slowly and well placed. Practice a return to ready position as part of your serve motion. Practice until you can do 25 in a row without missing when you serve long and 15 in a row when you serve short (so the ball bounces at least twice on the robot's side of the table).

Notice the sideways stance facing to the right, how the weight is mainly on the right leg and how the upper torso is slightly bent forward with the right shoulder lower than the left shoulder.

Image 1: End of back swing. Racket is taken back and up to shoulder level by raising the forearm and pulling it back. Note open racket angle.

Image 2: Forward swing. Racket is taken down and forward by snapping the forearm and rotating the shoulders.

Image 3: Just before ball contact. Racket angle has been adjusted slightly.

Image 4: Follow through. Note how rapidly the racket has accelerated from #3. Racket tip is now pointing forward.

Images 5 & 6: End of swing. Racket tip ends up pointing to the left. Shoulder and waist have rotated forward approximately 450. A small weight shift has occurred from the right leg to the left leg. The eyes have followed the ball intently throughout the entire motion.

Lesson 23: Backhand Right Sidespin Serve

The third serve to learn is the backhand right sidespin serve. This serve will be difficult to learn until you have mastered the two previous serves. Assume the starting position for a backhand serve (Photo 17, page 50) behind the middle of your backhand court. Stand square to the table. Now place your right forearm lightly across your left forearm so the racket is held to the left of the ball.

Toss the ball up, and as it descends, pull your elbow to the right, causing the racket to slash across the back of the ball on its lower surface. Let your shoulders rotate as you pull the elbow to the elbow is pulled back hard and the forearm continues to be straightened.

You need to work on two variations of this serve. A combination sidespin/backspin serve, as shown in Photo 2 1, is produced by keeping the elbow down as you pull it to the right. Combination sidespin/topspin, as shown in Photo 22, is produced by pulling up on the elbow as you pull it to the right. Practice these serves while striving to keep the ball low. Produce maximum sidespin by finely

Note how the racket brushes across the ball in a left to right direction. The left to right movement produces right sidespin and the downward movement of the racket at contact produces backspin.

Image 1: End of back swing. Racket has been taken to the left of the ball by reaching across and above the top of the left arm as the ball is tossed up. 

Image 2: Forward swing. Racket is pulled to the right by forearm begins to be release 

Image 3: Just after contact. The racket continues to travel down after contact. Arm has straightened significantly. 

Image 4: Follow through. Elbow is pulled back hard and the foreatm continues to be straightened. 

Images 5 & 6: End of stroke. Elbow has been pulled perform this serve with the racket already to the left of the ball, practice star-ting this serve with the racket behind the ball as shown in Photo 17, and then take a back swing (side swing) as you toss the ball up. Using a back swing will increase the amount of spin you can generate.

Backhand Right Sidespin Topspin Serve (Crosscourt)

This serve is very similar to The previous serve except the racket is pulled up just before contact.

Image 1: End of back swing. Racket has been taken to the left of the ball by reaching across and above the left arm as the ball is tossed up. 

Image 2 (barely visible): Forward swing. Racket is being pulled to the right by the elbow. 

Image 3: Just before contact. Forearm has been released slightly. 

Image 4: Just after contact. The tip of the racket rotated forward just before contact was made. Then the elbow was pulled sharply upward to apply topspin to the ball. Contact was made on the lower surface of the ball. 

lmage5: Follow through. The elbow is still being pulled sharply upward. 

lmage6: End of stroke. Elbow has been pulled as high as possible and racket ends up shoulder height or above. Unlike the sidespin/backspin serve, the forearm never gets released all the way. Rather, it remains bent throughout the stroke. The sharp upward movement of the racket puts topspin on the ball; the right to left movement puts right sidespin on it.

grazing across the ball at high speed. Be able to do sidespin/backspin or sidespin/ topspin alternately with equal ease. After being able to serve long and with good spin, work on keeping the serve short, so it will bounce twice on the other side. A much finer graze and touch will be required to do so. When working on the short serve, try to maintain the same amount of spin as when you serve long. Practice until you can do 25 in a row without missing when you serve long or 15 in a row when you serve short.

Finally, practice sequences of five different serves. For example, your first serve sharply upward mage6:End of stroke. Elbow has been pulled as high as possible and racket ends up shoulder height or above. Unlike the sidespin/backspin serve, the forearm never gets released all the way. Rather, it remains bent throughout the stroke. The sharp upward movement of the racket puts topspin on the ball; the right to left movement puts right sidespin on it could be a short sidespin/backspin service down-the-line. Your second serve could bc a long sidespin/topspin serve crosscourt. The third serve could be a short sidespin/topspin serve crosscourt. The fourth serve could be along sidespin/ backspin serve down-the-line. And your fifth serve could be a short sidespin/ backspin serve to the middle of the table.

Mixing up your services like this is crucial to having a good service game. You must keep your opponent guessing what serve you will use next. Always vary the spin, speed, and/or placement of the ball from one serve to the next.

Lesson 24: Forehand Left Sidespin Serve

The last serve to learn is the forehand left sidespin serve. Your stance and position to the table are the same as for the forehand backspin serve (see Photo 19). This time, however, instead of placing the racket directly behind the ball, start with the racket to the right of the ball. It will also help if you hold the racket mainly with your thumb and fore Wrist is snapped downward just before contact.

Images 4-6: End of stroke. Upper arm continues to push the racket to the left and racket tip now points to the left. Shoulders and waist are rotated about 450. The elbow and forearm are snug against the stomach. finger and allow your other three fingers to slip off the handle as shown in Image I of Photo 23. Toss the ball up, and as it descends, pull the right elbow to your side causing the racket to slash across the back of the ball on its lower surface in a sideways direction.

As with the backhand right sidespin service, you may combine topspin or backspin with the forehand left sidespin serve. Photo 23 shows the sidespin 

Notice the sideways stance to the right and how the weight is shifted to the back leg.

Image 1: End of back swing. The right arm is extended out to the right with the racket tip pointing to the right. Racket is held at shoulder height. Note the modified (looser) grip on the handle. 

Image 2: Forward swing, just before contact. Forearm is pushed down towards the ball as the elbow is pulled towards the body. Shoulders and waist are rotated slightly forward. 

Image 3: Follow through. Racket continues to travel down and to the left and the racket tip is rotated forward.

Forehand Left Sidespin Topspin Serve (Crosscourt)

Similar to the previous serve except racket is pulled upward as contact is made instead of continuing downward.

Image 1: End of back swing. Racket is moved to the right of the ball by extending the right arm. Racket tip is pointing to the right. 

Image 2: Forward swing. Forearm is pushed down as the forward. 

lmage 3: Just before contact. Wrist is bent backward. Forearm continues to push racket down towards the ball. 

Image 4: Follow through. Forearm is pulled up just before contact. Wrist continues to be bent back. 

Images 5 & 6: End of swing. Racket is pulled up against the stomach by raising the forearm. Waist and shoulders are rotated only alittle. Racket tip points mainly forward.

backspin serve. Sidespin / topspin, as shown in Photo 24, is produced by pulling the forearm just as contact is made. This may feel a little awkward and cramped when you first do it. Practice until you can do 25 in a row without missing when you serve long or 15 in a row when you serve short.

In a real game, the type of serve you use depends on the kind of return you would like to get. If you like to play a fast paced game with quick exchanges, use mainly a fast backhand topspin serve. If you like to smash the ball, use short sidespin/ topspin serves in an attempt to get the opponent to pop up the ball. If you like a slow paced game and/or you have a good push, serve mostly the short forehand backspin serve or short sidespin/backspin serves. Of course, if you discover a serve that the opponent has trouble with, use that serve more often, but not so much that the opponent gets used to it.

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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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Combining Forehand and Backhand

Newgy Robo-Pong

Once you are proficient at forehand and backhand block and counter strokes, it is time to learn how to combine forehand and backhand strokes. Maintaining a good ready position is the most important aspect of combining strokes. A good ready position decreases reaction time, permits easy movement in any direction, and assists in making a smooth, flowing transition from one shot to the next.

Most of the drills described in this chapter require you to have good footwork. If you have trouble maintaining consistency when you have to move your feet, take time out to read Chapter Nineteen Footwork, pages 63-64, and shadow practice the footwork until you feel comfortable with that kind of movement.

Lesson 14: Ready Position

To assume the ready position, keep your:

  1. Feet apart, at least shoulder width or wider. Your right foot is slightly further back than your left foot.
  2. Weight on the balls of your feet with the heels slightly off the ground and your weight evenly distributed on both feet.
  3. Arms hanging down with the forearms bent at an approximate 900 angle to the upper arms. This should place the elbows slightly in front
  4. Knees bent according to your height. A tall person needs to bend his knees more than a short person. Avoid standing up straight with your knees locked.
  5. Racket pointed forward, not favoring forehand or backhand.
  6. Head tilted up with your eyes focused on the ball.
  7. Entire body balanced, relaxed, and in a state of alert readiness.
  8. Mind clear, ready to jump start the body into action as soon as ball speed, spin, and trajectory are perceived.

The basic sequence of a rally is as follows: First, assume the ready position. Second, judge the trajectory of the ball. Third, move to the ball. Fourth, stroke the ball. Fifth, return to ready position. The ready position begins and ends every stroke and every rally. Practice this by:

  1. assuming the ready position,
  2. taking a quick two-step (refer to Footwork, for an example of two-step footwork) to the forehand
  3. Executing a shadow stroke forehand counter
  4. Taking a two-step back to your original position, and
  5. Reassuming the ready position. Repeat this action until it feels comfortable.

The next drill will be to repeat the same drill as in the preceding paragraph except you add a backhand counter. For this drill you would:

  1. Start in the ready position
  2. Take a quick two-step to the forehand
  3. Shadow stroke a forehand counter
  4. Take a two-step back to your original position
  5. Reassume the ready position
  6. Shadow stroke a backhand counter
  7. Finish by reassuming the ready position once again. As before, repeat until it feels comfortable.
Lesson 15: Combination Block Strokes With The Ready Position

To practice forehand and backhand combinations, turn the robot off and set the sweep control levers to the numbers 2 and 5 positions. The ball will land from the middle of your forehand court to the middle of your backhand court.

Assume the ready position just to the left of the center line. Make sure your racket is pointed straight forward and that the racket and your forearm align with the center line of the table. Turn the robot on at a slow speed and frequency and practice a backhand block when the ball lands to the left of the center line and a forehand block when it lands to the right of the center line. After each stroke, make sure you assume the ready position before stroking the next shot. Do one drill in which you place all blocks (both forehand and backhand) crosscourt, and a second drill where you place all blocks down-the-line.

Gradually build up your speed, but be careful not to go so fast that you forget to return to the ready position between strokes. Once you have reached your upper limits without losing good form, increase the range of oscillation by changing the sweep control levers to positions 2 and 4, if you're right handed, and 3 and 5, if you're left handed.

At these settings the ball will land randomly from your forehand corner to the middle of your backhand court. Repeat the above drills, but this time move whenever the ball goes to the wide forehand. Again, do one drill placing all blocks crosscourt, and a second drill placing all blocks down-the-line. Start at slow ball frequency and build up. Lastly, set the oscillator to sweep the entire width of the table (sweep control positions 3 & 4) and repeat. Be sure to use a backhand block whenever the ball lands in your backhand court and a forehand block whenever the ball lands in your forehand court. Gradually build up ball speed and frequency. Your goal is 50 successful blocks in a row at each stage.

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The Backhand Loop

Newgy Robo-Pong

Most players find it more difficult to create power on the backhand side. This is because the body limits the backswing on that side. However, with proper technique (and a lot of practice!), one can create nearly as much power (and perhaps more!) on the backhand side as on the forehand.

The most important power shot in table tennis is the loop. Although many players develop good forehand loops, many do not bother learning the backhand loop—seriously handicapping their games. This is especially true of shakehands players, who have a natural backhand loop when done properly. (Penholders generally do not backhand loop, but in recent years, more and more of them have learned to do so by using the back of their penhold racket.)

If a player has a forehand loop, but not a backhand loop, a simple short serve to the forehand, followed by a quick push or block to the backhand takes away this player's looping game. Even a very fast player cannot cover all of the table all of the time with just a forehand loop.

The backhand loop can be done against just about any type of shot. It is easiest to learn against backspin, but can also be done against topspin or a block. One advantage of the backhand loop over the forehand loop is that a player can often "wrist loop" a short ball on the backhand side—something that is more difficult to do on the forehand side.

A Newgy robot is an excellent way to learn to backhand loop. Set the robot on backspin, and aim it toward your backhand corner. Set the speed dial on 2. The robot will give you a pretty heavy backspin, so you will have to lift the ball.

When you feel you are comfortable looping both backhand and forehand, you should learn to loop from all parts of the table. Use the Newgy robot's oscillator to randomly put balls all over the table. Cover 50-70% of the table with your forehand loop, the rest with your backhand loop.

What follows is a sequence of Sean Lonergan, 1998 U.S. Collegiate Men's Singles & Doubles Champion. He is practicing on a Newgy robot, set on backspin, with the speed dial on 2.

The key thing to note about this sequence is how Sean uses nearly his entire body in the shot. Power is generated by the upward push of his legs when he unbends his knees, by the upward thrust of his upper body from the waist, by the rotation of his waist, by the rotation and upward thrust of his right shoulder, by the rotation of his arm on his elbow, and by the last-second snap of his wrist.

(Editor's Note: There are 8 GIF files that Larry has included with this article. The first seven are still pictures, and are great for studying the details of each phase of the stroke. The last picture is an animated GIF made from the 7 previous files. This file will "play" all 7 still pictures in sequence, giving motion to the pictures and providing the viewer with a good idea of the "feel" of the motion and how one phase of the stroke leads into the next phase.)

Photos 1-3: Backswing

Sean bends his knees, and bends and rotates his waist to the left. Some of his weight is transferred to his left leg. He rotates his right shoulder forward and slightly down, and brings his racket down to knee level, between his legs. (Against topspin, he would swing more from his left hip.) His wrist is cocked backward so his racket tip points almost straight backward, with the racket face pointing nearly straight downward. Sean's elbow is well out in front of his body. Sean is balanced, with legs well spread.

Photos 4-5: Forward Swing and Contact

Just before starting the forward swing, Sean's wrist is fully cocked backward. He transfers some of the weight on his left leg to his right leg. His knees and waist begin to straighten, and his right shoulder lifts upward and rotates backward. His waist rotates forward. The movements of the knees, waist and shoulder together start the forward swing of the arm. Sean's arm rotates forward from his elbow—a motion similar to throwing a Frisbee. Just before contact, Sean's wrist snaps into the ball. Contact is made a little to his left, roughly in front of his left leg.

At the start of the forward swing, Sean's racket was pointing nearly downward. As it moved forward, it opened up, until at contact it is facing nearly straight forward.

The contact is a grazing motion. The finer the grazing motion, the more spin. If the ball sinks into the sponge more, there will be more speed. The ball should not sink all the way through the sponge to the wood. Sean's backhand loop is a good balance of speed and spin, although he can go for extra spin or speed on any given shot.

Photos 6-7: Follow-through

The follow-through is the natural progression of the racket forward and up. Sean's racket ends up about head level, to his right.


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Looping Heavy Backspin

Newgy Robo-Pong

Heavy backspin-the very mention can strike terror in the hearts of even the best players. Even star players like Peter Karlsson of Sweden can have great difficulty with it. What's the problem, and how can it be overcome?

First and foremost is the simple fact that since there aren't that many choppers, most players get minimal practice against heavy backspin. Players can practice looping against a heavy push, but a player then gets only one practice shot per rally, as opposed to many repetitive practice shots in each topspin drill (i.e. forehand to forehand, backhand to backhand, etc.).

A second related problem is that even if a player does practice looping against a practice partner's push, the follow-up shot is normally a blocked return, so the player doesn't get to do repetitive practice, i.e., do the same shot over and over against the same spin until it becomes second nature. This is how players practice against topspin (forehand to forehand, backhand to backhand, etc.), but unless you have a chopper or a robot (or a coach feeding "multiball"), you can't do this against backspin.

Both of these problems can be corrected by practicing on a Newgy robot. Even on its lower settings, its backspin is pretty heavy. Not only can you use the robot to learn the proper technique in looping this type of ball, but it will enable you to gain the confidence you need to make this shot in a game situation.

How is the shot done? We will analyze a photo sequence of U.S. Olympic Team Member Todd Sweeris looping against a Newgy robot set on heavy backspin. (Speed setting was at 3.0.) He is looping at about medium speed —half his power goes to spin, half goes to speed. An interesting note is that when the various photos from the photo session were compared, Todd's stroke remained identical in each shot. Photos from the same part in each sequence looked so alike that they looked like copies from the same negative.

(Editor's Note: There are 6 GIF files that Larry has included with this article. The first five are still pictures, and are great for studying the details of each phase of the stroke. The last picture is an animated GIF made from the 5 previous files. This file will provide the viewer with a good idea of the "feel" of the motion and how one phase of the stroke leads into the next phase.)

A close study of the photos show that Todd is generating power from nearly every part of his body—his legs, waist, shoulders, elbow, and wrist. Even his left shoulder generates force by pulling his body around through the ball. Looping is truly a "whole-body shot."

Photo 1: Todd has bent his knees, especially his right one. Feet are well apart, giving him a firm stance. His right foot is parallel to the end-line of the table. He has dropped his right shoulder, and transferred most of his weight to his right foot—yet he is perfectly balanced. His waist is bent and twisted backwards. His playing arm, which he has straightened out somewhat, is pointed downward and backward. He has brought his wrist backward, so that the racket actually points backward. Both eyes are on the ball as he waits for ball to come into his hitting zone.

Photo 2: Todd's right leg straightens out, beginning his body rotation into the ball. Right shoulder has begun to rise, while left shoulder is rotating backward—pulling his body around. Waist is untwisting and unbending. His wrist has begun to snap forward.

Photo 3: Contact. Right shoulder has been pulled up, and both shoulders are rotating. Elbow and wrist are snapping through the ball. Most of the power is directed upward. Todd is still watching the ball with both eyes. (Against a faster incoming ball, he probably would not watch it as far in.) He has contacted the ball on the drop, about table level high. (For a slow, spinny loop, he'd let it drop more; for a faster loop, he'd contact it sooner. For a loop kill, he'd contact ball around the top of the bounce.)

Contact is mostly a grazing motion. For a slow, spinny loop, ball should barely sink into the sponge. For more speed, ball sinks more into the sponge. Except for a loop kill, ball should not sink in so much that you hear the ball hit the wood of the racket. In Todd's case, you could barely hear the contact.

Photos 4-5: The follow-through is up and forward, with both shoulders spinning around. (Because Todd has so much power on his loop, he is able to drive more forward against a heavy backspin than most players. Most players would follow through more upward, less forward. For a slower, spinnier loop, follow through higher; for a faster loop, more forward.) Elbow and wrist have snapped completely, with elbow now very bent. Most of his weight has transferred to his left leg, yet he remains balanced and ready for the next shot.


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Backhand Counter

Newgy Robo-Pong

The next step is to develop a backhand counter. This stroke starts the same as the backhand block. Your stance and position to the table are the same. Contact the ball as it is rising just before the top of its bounce about 1 to 1 1/2 feet in front of you. Unlike the block, which is executed with a relatively still racket, the backhand counter has a small back swing and a longer follow through. Do this by pulling the racket back towards the left hip and then pushing it forward and slightly upward, keeping the correct racket angle throughout the stroke. The backhand counter is similar to the movement used to throw a Frisbee.

This stroke is done primarily with the forearm. The elbow and upper arm remain relatively stable and the forearm pivots around the elbow. Hold the racket slightly below the height of the ball at the beginning of the stroke and let it end just above the height of the ball at the finish. An indication of a complete stroke is the tip of the racket pointing forward or even slightly to the right (for right-handers) at the end of the stroke. Keep your wrist held in the down position and do not let it flop back and forth.

Lesson 12: Backhand Counter With No Foot Movement

Develop a backhand counter following the same procedure as all the other strokes. First, at low speed and frequency crosscourt, then down-the-line, and finally alternating crosscourt and down-the-line. Gradually build up the ball speed and ball frequency until you have reached your upper limits. As you turn up the ball frequency and/or speed remember to do a complete stroke. Do not turn up the speed or frequency to the point that you start shortening your stroke. Your goal for each phase of this lesson is 25 consecutive counters in each direction.

Lesson 13: Backhand Counter With Foot Movement

Start with the ball moving randomly at slow speed within your backhand court (sweep control levers at the number 1 and 4 positions for right-handers, 3 and 6 for left-handers), then at maximum speed. Remember not to reach for the ball with your arm, but rather move your feet so you are squarely in front of the ball before you stroke it.

Photo 12: Backhand Counter (Crosscourt)

Notice that the stroke is done almost exclusively the upper arm. This is evidenced by the blurring of the face and the overlapping table and leaning forward. The right elbow is hanging down slightly in front.

Image 1: Racket is being taken back.

Image 2: End of back swing. The racket has been raised to just below the anticipated height of the ball at contact and the racket angle adjusted for the topspin.

Image 3: Right before ball contact. Racket angle has not changed. Racket is rapidly approaching the peak of its acceleration.

Images 4-6: Follow through. The forearm continues to rotate forward, pivoting around the elbow, tip of racket points forward (Image 4), then to the right (image 6).

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Backhand Block

Newgy Robo-Pong

The backhand block, like the forehand block, uses the speed and spin that is already on the ball to return the ball back across the net. The biggest difference between the backhand and forehand block is the backhand forehand block makes contact with the ball to the side and in front of

Stand about 12 inches in back of the center of your backhand court (the left court as you face the table, for right handers) in a squared 

Intercept the ball with a still racket as the ball is rising and just before it reaches its peak. Angle the racket open or closed by rotating the forearm to make the ball return low over the net. If your return is too high, you must angle the racket more closed by tilting the face of the racket toward the table. Conversely, if your return is too low and doesn't clear the net, you must open the racket angle slightly by tilting the face of the racket closer to vertical. 

Lesson 10: Backhand Block With No Foot Movement

Adjust the robot to deliver topspin shots to the middle of your backhand court at a slow pace and speed. Practice your backhand block in the same manner and in the same sequence as you did the forehand block. Start slowly with no oscillation and blocking the ball back crosscourt, then down-the-line, and finally alternating shots in the two directions. Gradually build up the ball frequency and speed. Be sure that you can do, without missing, 50 crosscourt blocks, then 50 down-the-line blocks, and finally 50 patterns of alternating crosscourt and down-the-line blocks. 

Remember not to swing at the ball. Merely block the path of the ball with your racket and let the ball's speed and spin cause it to rebound across the net. Experiment with tilting the racket angle downward until you can consistently place the ball back in the desired direction and low over the net. 

Lesson 11: Backhand Block With Foot Movement

When you have reached your current maximum limits in Lesson 10, you're ready to combine movement with the backhand block. To add movement to the robot, turn the main switch off and set the sweep control levers to the numbers 3 and 6 positions if you're right handed and to the numbers 1and 4 positions if you're left handed. Set the ball frequency and ball speed controls to 1-2 points below your maximum rate, as determined in Lesson 9. Adjust the oscillator speed setting as described on pages 2-4. 

The balls will be randomly delivered from the center line of the table to the backhand corner. Practice blocking the ball back crosscourt with your backhand until you are consistent, then practice down-the-line blocks, and finally alternate crosscourt and down-the-line blocks, all with the ball moving to random positions within your backhand court at slow speed. Always you. Avoid reaching for the ball with your arm. MOVE YOUR FEET! Keep your elbow it is going to shoot so you can move into position before the ball is thrown to you. Once you complete this sequence at below maximum speed and frequency, gradually turn up the ball speed and ball frequency controls until once again you reach the upper limit of your current ability without losing consistency.

Photo 11: Backhand Block (Croscourt)

Notice angle of the racket. It is tilted slightly closed to compensate for the topspin on the ball and slightly to the right to make the ball (almost hidden by the racket) counterbalances the racket hand. Weight is equally distributed on both legs.

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