Tactics I Use & How I Practice ThemBy Tahl Leibovitz
This column will be written by members of the US Paralympic Table Tennis Team and other distinguished disabled players and the coaches/trainers who work with them. The authors will describe how they use the Newgy Robot to improve their skills, tactics, and techniques and how to modify them for a type of disability. These ping pong coaching articles should prove especially valuable and interesting for disabled players or those rehabilitating from accidents or surgeries. But this column should be equally helpful to able-bodied players who can learn greater adaptability for their own games and practices.
Table Tennis is warlike in the respect that there is so much deception. It's more like chess than most games. For me the edge I was able to gain came from constant use of a table tennis robot. My first experience with the Newgy robot was at the South Queens Boys and Club in Queens, NY. I had just started playing. I remember the curiosity I had when I first used it.
That was many years ago. I still use the robot with my training sessions. Currently, I am a Paralympic Gold and Bronze Medalist and I have won countless other titles as well. I am also a top-level player in the United States. I have played on the US Maccabiah and Paralympic team many times.
The weird thing is, I'm a disabled player. I never thought I would reach the level I am at now. I have benign bone tumors in almost all areas of my spine, 12 in each knee, my ankles, hips, even my playing arm (above the wrist and in the elbow) as well many other places on my body. I also have a rare bone disease, which affects my toes and just about all my bones. I have 3 pinched nerves. I could go on and on but, the bottom line is, with the struggles I have physically, I have still been able to succeed in table tennis to a point that even I didn't think would be possible.
The Newgy robot has helped me get to where I am today. I am a 2500 level player. I can beat just about anyone in this country. I have beaten players from the US National Team, Canadian National Team, Nigerian National Team, Players from all the Caribbean National teams including Jamaica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Puerto Rico, Guyana and many more. I have 2 bronze Medals from the 16th World Maccabiah Games. I came in third in the US Men's Doubles for the last 2 years in a row. Those are just some of my able-bodied achievements.
As for my Paralympic Titles, I won the US Open many times, the US Nationals, the Czech Open, World Championship Bronze Medal as well as many other titles. The robot really helps me put my game together especially right before a tournament. The Newgy Robot for sure is a huge factor in all of my successes as a table tennis player.
Finish The Point Quickly
My main problem in table tennis is finishing the point. I am at a point now in my game where I attempt to end the point as fast as I can. I use tactical skills to set up points where I can get into a strong attack. For training, I set up the Newgy robot so that a medium paced topspin ball is going once to my forehand and once to my backhand. This allows me to work on my technique and also put away loose balls.
Pin Your Opponent to Their Backhand
Another tactic I use is to pin a player to their backhand until I can get a ball to attack strongly. I usually do this with my backhand towards their backhand. What I like about the Newgy Robot is that the ball can be placed in one area. I have spinal problems so there are times when I am unable to move well. I need to train from just one spot. The Newgy Robot is better than any practice partner because it can put the ball in one spot a million times.
Another important area is the backhand opening. I put the Newgy Robot on heavy backspin. I loop for 30 minutes, trying to get comfortable with the spin. I always do that. I know that if I can play the robot's spin I can play anyone's spin. I try to get to a point where I can make shots and openings with less effort.
Play The Middle
What helped me a lot was when I decided to center my game upon the middle. The middle is the weakest point in table tennis. I try and set up the ball tactically so that I can attack strong to the middle. I set the robot up to loop very fast, I block one ball to the middle, and then I counter attack to the middle. This way of training has helped me improve so much.
Another thing that is important to my game is service contact. I have the Newgy Robot serve to me. The spin it generates is incredible. I mimic the same spin when I serve. I try to make good contact and also false contact for a change of spin.
Short Serve Receive Skills
Returning service from the robot is another much needed training tool. I mostly practice my forehand flip and my drop shot. Most players in this country have no short game, especially players under 2300. If my short game is good I find I can beat most players of that level with relative ease.
Attack Long Serves
Another key thing to improve is to be able to loop or smash any long service. I set the Newgy robot to serve. I have the robot serve long service to random points on the table. The spin is incredible. Then I position myself to attack the service properly. Due to this drill I am able to loop just about any long service from any player in this country. If you see me in a tournament you will see me opening up on all long services.
Do Footwork Drills
To me, the main key to succeed in table tennis is footwork. The Newgy Robot can do one of hundreds and hundreds of footwork drills. I move off the table and set the robot at medium speed with it delivering one ball to my backhand and one to my forehand. I attack all the balls with my forehand. When I finish with the robot and then go to play a match with a human, I can get to so many balls with much less effort. I think doing these footwork drills also helps my anticipation.
Incorporate Variety & Balance Into Your Game and Practices
Some of the other things I do when I'm training are practicing serves. I serve into the Newgy Robot an hour a day when I'm training. I practice my chop blocks. I work on my footwork weaknesses. I try to get comfortable attacking all types of balls—backspin, sidespin and topspin as well as no spin. I work on proper balance.
When I'm not feeling well physically I do more touch drills. I set the robot up to attack strong and I block, placing the ball around the table. For me the important thing is not to do so many drills, which are too repetitive. I like randomness. The Newgy robot has so many different variations of spin, speed and placement; it's like playing a world-class player. Many perceptual skills are required to handle the ever changing pace and spin of the ball. The Newgy Robot is a vehicle, which provides enhancement for these skills.
I set up the robot at a little less than medium speed. I loop drive the first ball. Then I put heavy topspin on the next ball. Then I smash. I do this randomly with the backhand and the forehand. This helps keep my opponent off guard. They never know what to expect. I also throw in some backhand chops.
Develop Something New
Waldner once said that the key to becoming a champion is to develop something new as well as make technique changes to enhance your level. With the Newgy Robot, it's almost as though my game becomes more artistic. I can flow freely with my strokes and my placements. I think it's because the Newgy Robot is giving me the same ball to work with when I want it. That really helps me out. It allows me to improve my technique dramatically.
Confidence Is A Must
I remember reading something that Torben Wosik (a top world player from Germany) said. He said that during a critical match against a top Chinese player, the player got more confidence and he got less. He said that was a big factor in the match. I think about that and the confidence I have against other players. After I finish training with the Newgy Robot my confidence goes up a lot. I think its because my strokes feel very smooth and my technique feels a lot better.
I don't think it was any accident that I first started playing on a Newgy Robot. That is what put me on the right path to success and ironically it's what kept me on that path. I'm sure you will find similar successes with the robot. Please feel free to email me with any questions about how you can improve using the robot for drills. Thank you.back to Coaching Forum