INTEGRATING ROBOT PRACTICE INTO YOUR TRAINING PROGRAM
By Larry Thoman
This column will consist of questions that have been asked of the staff at Newgy or our replies to questions posed on the table tennis newsgroup, rec.sport.table-tennis. This month's article is a response to a statement made by Lynn on the TT newsgroup in a thread entitled "Training For Success". We encourage readers to send in your own questions. You may email us at email@example.com or fax or write us. All questions cannot be answered, but every month we will pick out one of them to answer in this column.
… (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.
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.
- Jena Newgarden