SWITCHING FROM ROBOT PLAY TO COMPETITION
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. We encourage readers to send in your own questions. You may email us firstname.lastname@example.org 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. This month's question was asked by ZHOUJY. Also, with some additional sleuthing, I was able to identify the person who asked last month's question - Yves Thomas.
Once I got used to Robo-Pong's speed, angle, placing and rhythm, I have a big disadvantage playing with human players whose hits vary so much in speed, angle, placing and spin. Although I can adjust Robo-Pong's speed, angle and placing, it does not help much. My playing skills worsened.
Regarding your concerns about training on the robot affecting your competitive play, please remember that robot training is only a part of a total training program. Robot training, 1-on-1 training, multi-ball training, fitness training, practice competition, tournaments, and having a good coach are all necessary for a complete training program. Using a robot will indeed accelerate development of a number of skills if used properly. As a 2100 level rated player, I can seamlessly go from playing on a robot to a competitive match with no ill effects. The secret is in how you design your training program.
The robot's biggest strength is in developing strokes and footwork. For fastest improvement, particularly in the early learning stages, it is very important to have a consistent ball to practice a new stroke against. This is exactly what the robot affords. It would be extremely difficult to learn a new stroke if every ball had a different combination of spin, speed, and placement.
This is what I would suggest: Learn a stroke on the robot until you feel very consistent against a variety of spins, speeds, and angles, practicing them one at a time. When you can handle a variety of different returns from the robot, then start working with your practice partner or coach to work in controlled drills that vary returns from shot to shot so that you can learn to modify each stroke to accommodate the type of return. This is a skill that must be practiced in a controlled practice type environment. Do not mislead yourself to think that you can practice this skill in a game or other competitive environment where your focus should be on winning points, not on developing a new skill.
Once you can modify your strokes "on the fly" to accommodate varying controlled returns, then it's time to start working this skill into practice games, where the object is to use this skill as much as possible in the game, win or lose. The last step is using this skill in actual competition. Skipping one of these steps will lead to poor results. Real improvement takes not only hard work, but working smart as well.
- Jena Newgarden