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Robot Training
Excerpts from Larry Thoman's Newgy Robo-Pong 2000 Player's Instructional Manual

 

FOREHAND BLOCK

The first stroke to learn is the forehand block. It is called a block because you want to block the path of the ball with your racket. The block almost feels like no stroke at all. You do not swing at the ball, but merely intercept the ball with your racket almost like a bunt in base ball. The block uses a ball's speed and spin to make your return go back over the net. The block does not add more speed or spin to the ball. It simply redirects the speed and spin back to your opponent. It is used to return topspin.

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, 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, angle the racket more open by tilting the face of the racket closer to vertical.

One common mistake for beginners, when they are getting ready to hit a forehand, is to reach out and touch or lean on the table with their free hand. This is a direct violation of the rules and will cause you to lose a point in a match. So keep your free hand up and use it to counterbalance your racket hand.

Lesson 3: Forehand Block With No Forehand Movement

Now that we are ready to play against the robot, pick up your racket and hold it with a shakehand grip and with the racket face perpendicular to the floor and the wrist tilted down. Position yourself right at the end of the table, just to the left of the center line as shown in Photo 7 (left handers need to stand to the right of the center line and will have to substitute right for left and left for right in all further instructions.) Take up a slightly sideways stance so you can make contact with the ball to the side and slightly

With the robot controls set as follows: spin - topspin, ball speed - 2 to 3, ball frequency - 3 to 4, oscillator speed - off, oscillator range - 3 to 4, head angle - C or D, head directed to forehand court. Turn the power switch to "ON" and after waiting for the balls to load up, prepare to block the ball back across the net with a still racket. DO NOT SWING AT THE BALL. Merely intercept the ball just before it reaches the peak of its trajectory after it has bounced on your side of the table. Experiment with tilting the racket angle downward until you can consistently place the ball back in a crosscourt direction and low (approximately 2-3' inches over the net. Make the ball go back by redirecting the ball's speed and spin.

Forehand Block

Photo 7: Forehand Block (Crosscourt)

Note angle of the racket. It is tilted slightly down (to compensate for the topspin on the ball) and slightly to the left (to to the right with about 60% of the weight on the right leg.

Do not add more speed to the ball with your stroke. Remember to keep your wrist steady and tilted down. Do not allow it to flop around. Your goal is to correctly execute 50 crosscourt blocks in a row without missing.

Once you have gained consistency at blocking the ball back crosscourt and low, bend your wrist backward slightly so your return goes down-the-line, in stead of crosscourt. Practice this down-the-line block until you can consistently place the ball back low over the net. Your goal is to correctly execute 50 down-the-line blocks without missing.

The next step is to alternate crosscourt blocks with down-the-line blocks. Practice until you can successfully execute 25 patterns of one crosscourt block followed by one down-the-line block. When you can do this, you're ready to add more frequency and speed to your shots.

Turn the ball frequency off. Reset the ball speed setting to 3-3 1/2 so each ball is delivered close to the end line on your side of the table. Turn the ball frequency to 4 and practice crosscourt blocks until you do 50 in a row without missing. Then practice down-the-line blocks until you do 50 in a row. Finally, practice alternating crosscourt and down-the-line blocks until you successfully do 25 patterns without missing.

Turn the ball frequency off and reset the ball speed to a higher setting. When you turn the frequency control back on, adjust to a setting higher than your previous setting. You do not necessarily have to turn up the ball speed and frequency to the same level, although this is usually the case with the block. You may also need to adjust the head angle to keep the ball on the table. When you turn the ball speed higher than 3-4, you have to raise the head angle so the ball doesn't bounce on the robot's side of the table first. Rather, the ball is delivered so it first bounces on the player's side. Repeat the same sequence of crosscourt blocks, followed by down-the-line block, followed by alternating crosscourt and down-the-line blocks. It may be helpful to back off from the table slightly as you turn up the ball speed to allow more time to position your racket correctly.

NOTE: As you build up the ball speed, it becomes increasingly important not to swing at the ball. Be sure to attain consistency at each step before proceeding to the next step. Keep increasing the ball frequency and ball speed settings until you have reached the limit of your current ability and you begin to get erratic in your ball control and placement. Make note of the settings when you have reached your maximum limits.

Lesson 4: Forehand Block With Footwork

When you have reached your current maximum limits, you are ready to combine movement with stroking. To add movement to the robot, with the main switch off, set the sweep control levers to the numbers 1 and 4 positions if you are right handed and to the numbers 3 and 6 positions if you are left handed. Set the ball speed controls to 1-2 points below your maximum rate, as determined in the preceding lesson.

Turn the main switch on and adjust the ball frequency to a comfortable level. The balls will be randomly fed to an area from your forehand corner to the center line of the table. Practice blocking the ball back crosscourt with your forehand 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 at a slow speed. Once you complete this sequence at below maximum speed and frequency, gradually turn up the ball speed and ball frequency controls until you reach the upper limits of your current ability without losing consistency.

It will help if you watch the robot head to see which direction it is going to shoot so you can move into position before the ball is thrown. When moving sideways to hit a forehand it is important to move the feet to the remain upright and bent slightly forward. Remember to move first, stroke second. Avoid reaching for the ball. If you are having trouble moving, you might want to shadow practice table tennis footwork .

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