Step-Around Footwork Drill

Newgy Robo-Pong

Here's a good drill for footwork and variation in your strokes. It can get vary fast paced and tiring but very useful as it simulates a point in real play. Set your Newgy to give a medium height ball about 4-5 speed and 5-6 frequency to start. Aim the Newgy into the back-hand corner. Hit 3 easy backhand balls consecutively cross-court and on the 4th shot, run around with a quick side step and hit a forehand smash down the line similating a kill in a real game. Then immediately side-step the other way, getting back into position to hit 3 backhands again. As you get better, increase the speed and frequency. You can also practice variations in your shots by blocking the first backhand, looping the next backhand and then smashing the 3rd backhand before running around. This drill gives you a good cardiovascular workout from all the running around, helps develop variation in your shots, quickens your footwork and rehearses a point that is played a lot in real game situations. Just look at Deng Yaping.

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Strengthen Your Mid-Point Weakness

Newgy Robo-Pong

Almost every table tennis player has a common weakness - the mid point. Even top world class players exploit this tactic, the ball is very awkward and difficult to return, let alone attack. Usually if the ball is returned, it comes quite high and short, a perfect set up for your opponent to put away. The Newgy robot is the perfect practice partner to reduce the effects of this weakness.

Stand in your normal ready position at the table. Take note of where your mid-point or shoulder is, and aim the Newgy to that area. Initially set it to a topspin medium height ball, 4-5 speed and a low frequency. Return to your normal ready position, and as the ball comes, take a very quick side step (also moving slightly backwards) and hit the ball using a forehand drive. Alternatively, you can attack/block with your backhand. Now return to your ready position for the next shot.

It is very important in this drill that when you hit the ball, you do not get into position just by simply moving your upper body and not your feet. This can get you in a very awkward position, the ball is even more difficult to hit and furthermore, this creates very bad balance and slow recovery for the next shot. Also, remember that you are pretending you are in a match situation. Do not automatically shift and assume that the ball will be directed to your mid point before Newgy feeds the ball.

To increase difficulty, you may increase the speed and oscillation of the ball. Furthermore, you can add a bit of sidespin spinning the ball into your shoulder.

This is a great drill to practice to eliminate a weakness that your opponent would otherwise exploit. Moreover, you can then use Newgy for you to practice against hitting at your opponent's mid-point!

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Eliminate Long Strokes

Newgy Robo-Pong

A very simple drill with the Robo-Pong can help beginners eliminate the following common mistakes: hitting forehand or backhand shots with feet perpendicular to the net (like a tennis player), using strokes that are too long (like a tennis stroke, for instance), and stretching for a shot instead of moving the feet. Set the robot to deliver balls right down the centerline of the table, and alternate between returning the ball with your forehand and backhand. Adjust the frequency of the robot, concentrate on moving your feet before every shot, and in almost no time you'll see results. If properly done, this drill doesn't give you time to hit the ball with a slow stroke or inefficient stance.

(Editor's Note: Instead of doing this drill with the ball being delivered down the centerline of the table, you may wish to do this drill with the ball being delivered to your backhand corner. Unless you are a backhand oriented player, playing backhands from the center of the table is normally not your best choice for a stroke. Probably 80-90% of players have stronger forehands so this is the preferred stroke when returning a ball down the center of the table. By doing this drill with the ball being delivered to the backhand corner, you will execute the backhand from your "normal" position and then step over to return the next ball with your forehand. Using a forehand to return a ball delivered to your backhand is considered "good form"; whereas, using a backhand to return a ball delivered to your forehand is normally considered "poor form".)

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Improve Your Doubles Teamwork

Newgy Robo-Pong

Have Robo-Pong send the ball to the player A of doubles team AB. Player A must then return this shot and immediately go to his/her left and then to the back. Player B then approaches the table and returns the next shot and does the same as Player A, making something like a circle. Continue like this until you get tired.

(Editor's note: This is an excellent example of a simple drill that will greatly improve your doubles play. One of the keys to becoming a great doubles player is to learn how to get out of the way of your partner, so he/she can execute their own stroke unhindered by your presence. A common method for doing this is using "circle" footwork as described above. Players may circle either left or right, but your partner must know which way you're going before you execute your own shot. Robo-Pong is a terrific aid to training this critical skill. It's often difficult to get someone to practice doubles and you multiply the usefulness of your robot when two people get the benefit of practice at the same time. A great way to develop teamwork.)

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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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Check Ball Placement After Serve Practice

Newgy Robo-Pong

Your training doesn't have to stop when the robot does. Gather the loose balls on the ground, put them in a small box, and then practice your serving into the robot. The Newgy robot works great at collecting your serves. If you have enough sidespin or backspin you will hear the ball rattle around in the collection area. Also when you are done serving, check and see which side has the most balls. This will indicate how well you spread your serves around the table.

(Editor's note: Of course this only works if you first pull all the balls out of the ball trays before beginning your serve practice. Also to better segregate your returns, place the robot's ball dams in their retaining slots before starting.With the ball dams in place, the balls will not mix together in the center area, thereby giving you a much truer indicator of your ball placement. It will also make it easier to pull the balls out of the trays if you decide to continue your serve practice after you use up the first box of balls.The Robo-Caddy works great as a tray to hold the balls for your serve practice. You can position it beside the table where it is convenient to pick up the next ball but it won't interfere with serve execution like a box on top of the table would.)

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Unique Footwork Drill

Newgy Robo-Pong

Always doing the same stroke may be a wrong thing to do as it is rare to have the partner at the club serving you balls consistently the same way in a match, even in practice. Have your ping pong robot send balls (underspin or topspin) to the middle of the table at a low frequency so you have time to:

  1. Hit, loop, or push the ball with your forehand, depending on what stroke you want to practice.
  2. With your free hand, first touch your backhand corner and then your forehand corner of the table.
  3. Execute a backhand stroke (your choice).
  4. With your free hand, touch first your forehand corner and then the backhand corner of the table.
  5. Repeat.

It just adds a little bit of randomization and helps to better integrate the environment. Once you can successfully do this drill with the ball sent to the middle of the table, try this drill with the ball sent slighlty to either side of center. Another variation is to change the depth of the ball. E.g., set up one drill with the ball landing midways between the net and endline of the table and then another drill with the ball landing either shorter or longer than in the first drill.. I suggest 3 minutes each drill. Have fun, Yazel.

(Editor's Note: I did this drill and it is surprisingly fun to do. It has a pleasing variety of body movements and is very good for helping footwork It blends table tennis movements with non table tennis movements, so it feels strange to someone used to doing traditional ping pong drills. Also it is mentally challenging because I had to keep myself focused on the proper sequence of motions. Depending on how forceful your strokes are and how good of shape you're in, you may not be able to do this drill for an entire 3 minutes. Vary the duration of your drill accordingly. This is somewhat similar to the Chair Drill, where actual strokes are combined with other movements.These types of drills are a great way to add variety and spice to your workouts.)

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"Listen" To The Spin On Your Serves

Newgy Robo-Pong

There is only one thing that happens every time you play a point in table tennis. That is the serve. One of the things I enjoy most about my robot is the awesome collection net. In modern table tennis, the serve has become a vital part of the game. Many people have watched world class players being dumbfounded by their opponent's serve. Some say that the current rules favor the server because the server can legally serve and "hide" the ball from their opponent. It is true. The way the rules currently read, the server can toss the ball and execute a legal serve that does not allow the opponent to comprehend what kind of spin the ball has on it.

Well, that is the way it is!

If you want to increase your service skill, there is no better way to do it than to practice. Instead of painstakingly going to the other side of the table and picking up the balls off the ground, why not take them out of the convenient collection system of the Robo-Pong 2000?

One of my favorite drills I do as a result of buying my robot is practicing my serve and listening to the ball spin away in the cool collection system.

(Editor's Note: Good players are keenly aware of every little thing inside, and sometimes even immediately outside, the playing court. They pick up clues from the environment to help them modify their play to match the conditions, to obtain feedback so that subsequent shots are more "on target", and to sense when a change of strategy is needed. Many players become good at using their senses of touch, sight, and feeling to pick up such clues from their environment.

The sense of hearing is often overlooked in table tennis. Rick's suggestion to listen to the ball spinning in the trays after executing a serve is an example of a player using his sense of hearing to improve his play. Rick can pick up valuable clues as to the severity of spin on his serve by the sound the ball makes as it spins itself down in the trays. A "sizzling" sound tells him that the spin was strong, making it a more difficult serve for the opponent to handle. He could also practice no-spin serves, making sure to listen for a lack of "sizzle" when the ball lands in the tray.

When I was a young player at a summer training camp and playing 6 to 8 hours a day, I claimed that I could hear the difference between a topspin and backspin serve. A topspin serve sounded "harder" to me; conversely, a backspin serve sounded "softer". I tested myself by guessing the type of serve with my eyes closed. I was right about 75% of the time!)

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Short Returns Of No-Spin Serves

Newgy Robo-Pong

Place the head of the robot downwards, so that a double bounce serve is replicated. Initially, the spin should be a dead ball, and the placement in one particular spot on the table. For example, this would replicate a short dead ball serve to the middle of the table.

The repetition of the balls should be slow enough to hit the ball, and then completely return to the service ready position. From the ready position, step forward with the same foot as the playing hand, and then return back to the ready position. This should be done in one smooth step.

To drop the ball short and effectively, the timing of the return should be immediately off the bounce. This will create more spin on the return and give the opponent less time to react. The return should be at least a double bounce return with the height just over the net.

Since a dead ball serve is being used, you will have to create your own spin. Catching the ball right off the bounce will create this effect. Very little, if any, lift will be needed against the dead ball serve. You are not using the opponent’s spin, but rather creating your own.

This is the basic way to place a short dead ball serve short. Once the technique has become more comfortable, set the placement of the ball short to the forehand then change the placement to the backhand. Each placement should be done for about 5 minutes separately. To simulate a game situation, set the placement on random and practice dropping each ball short and then returning to the service ready position.

This service return practice should not take more than a half an hour each time and will surely be an effective improvement of your game. Service return training is highly underestimated and more emphasis should be placed on training this aspect of the game. After all, the serve return is one shot that happens every single point.

Good luck!

Editor’s notes: While it is impossible for a Newgy Robot to deliver a true “dead” ball (no-spin), the robot can deliver a spin so light that by the time contact is made, the ball is spinning so slowly that for all practical purposes it can be considered “dead”.

This is achieved by setting your Ball Speed control to “0” and your spin to "Backspin". The head angle will need to be adjusted to between the D and E positions (for Robo-Pong 2040 robots attached to the end of the table). You will need to experiment with the head angle to find the exact setting necessary for this drill, but you want the ball to first land on the robot’s side of the table about 15 inches from the net. The ball will bounce just over the net and land about 12 to 15 inches from the net on your end of the table.

This drill requires the Ball Frequency to be at very low settings. If your robot doesn’t shoot out balls at very low settings, you will need to purchase some Tuner Lubricant and Cleaner (Radio Shack part #64-4315) or equivalent. Then remove the robot body from the net system (or Ball Bucket depending on your robot model), detach the Clear Front Cover, and remove the balls from inside the machine. Spray the lubricant/cleaner inside of the Ball Frequency Motor while it is running at medium to fast speed. This will clear out any dirt or rust inside the motor and permit it to turn at low voltage. Refer to your Owner’s Manual if you have any questions about the above procedure.

Lastly, it is recommended that you do not move your feet until the serve lands on the robot’s side of the table. This will better replicate the mechanics of an actual serve where you do not know serve direction or spin until after ball contact is made. It is also highly advisable to keep the Ball Frequency set to very low settings. Again, this will better replicate the timing involved in a normal serve return against a human where you have time to get set and prepare yourself to return the serve.

Here are some related articles on serve return in our Newgy Coaching Forum Archives:

Using your Robot To Practice Serve Return 

How to Effectively Return Short Services

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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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