Newgy Circuit Training,

Jena Newgarden

Larry Hodges
Rockville, MD 20852

Set up Newgy robots on three consecutive tables. Set the first and third table on topspin, the middle one on backspin. Players line up on the first table, youngest or lowest rated first, and each try to hit 20 consecutive shots(this can vary, depending on player's level). If a player misses before 20, he/she go to end of the line, and next player goes up.

As soon as a player gets 20 in row on table one, he/she goes to table two, and again has to hit 20 in a row. If a player misses before reaching 20, he/she goes to the end of that line. If first player to reach second table doesn't get 20 on first try, he/she has to wait until another player reaches that table and has a turn before getting next chance.

As soon as a player gets past table two, player goes to table three. An object (a cup, a paddle, etc) is set on the table, and player has five shots to hit it. If player misses, he/she goes to end of line. Again, if the first player to reach third table doesn't hit object in five tries, he/she has to wait until another player reaches that table and has a turn before getting next chance.

First player to successfully run the circuit is the winner!



Runner-up


Robert Mayer
Memphis TN 38141
Bluff City TTC

I have found the Newgy Robot to be useful for even rather mundane tasks such as service practice. By setting a bucket of balls on the table beside me, I can begin serving balls on by one, knowing that the recycling net is there to catch most of them. When the bucket is finally empty, I simply turn the ball feeder on high speed and place the bucket in front of it to get a quick refill so I can begin again.

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The Natural Progression of Drills

Jena Newgarden

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

You’ve made the big plunge — plunked down the money for a Newgy robot, and now have high expectations for your table tennis game. And you should — as long as you practice correctly. It’s very easy to train incorrectly, and not improve as fast as you could.

This is the first of a series of monthly columns on training with the Newgy robot. The goal of the articles is to help you maximize your improvement with your own "Deep Blue." Each column will go over some technique that can be practiced on the robot, from the perspective of players from beginning to advanced.

It doesn’t matter what your level of play is, a robot can help you. A robot is for developing, tuning, changing, or improving existing techniques. That covers the spectrum from beginner to advanced. A new generation of players is developing with the help of the Newgy robot — Barney J. Reed, Dave Fernandez, T.J. Beebe, Keith Alban (to name a few U.S. players), and many more.

There is a natural progression of drills as a player develops from beginner to advanced. They are:

• Beginners: Stroking drills to develop proper and consistent strokes.

• Intermediate: Stroking/footwork drills, to learn to move and stroke.

• Advanced: Random stroking/footwork drills, to learn to react to an unpredictable ball.

BEGINNING SECTION

Beginning drills are relatively simple. At this stage, you should be learning the forehand and backhand drive (also known as forehand and backhand hits, counters, or counter-drives) against topspin, the forehand (and perhaps backhand) loop against backspin, the forehand and backhand push against backspin, and serves. (The net that comes with the Newgy robot makes service practice very convenient — and you should be practicing your serves regularly.)

To learn the techniques, it helps tremendously to have a coach. A coaching book or video helps, but does not replace a coach who can immediately point out the problems with any technique and correct them. To find a coach, go to the USATT Coaches listing at USA Table Tennis Coaches or contact USATT at 719-578-4583. If you can’t find a coach in your area, you’ll just have to get by with books and tapes. Use the Player’s Instructional Manual that came with your robot, look up previous coaching articles in our Coaching Forum Archives, or call Newgy Customer Service for other videotapes and books that are available.

It is important that you learn proper techniques as soon as possible. If you practice a shot incorrectly, all you are doing is ingraining a shot that is incorrect and that will be difficult to fix later on. If you learn and practice the shots correctly early on, you will ingrain the proper technique, which will soon become second nature to you.

Here’s the simple formula for developing a new stroke: Correct Techniques + Constant Repetition = Well-Developed Strokes.

INTERMEDIATE SECTION

It’s assumed here that you have pretty good technique and control of your shots. You now have to combine your strokes with footwork. Footwork (along with spin) is the difference between "Ping Pong" and "Table Tennis." In Table Tennis you move to the ball; in Ping Pong, you reach for the ball, and you always lose to the "Table Tennis Player." Which do you want to be?

Just as with learning new strokes, you have to develop your footwork correctly, especially side-to-side footwork. The first type of footwork you want to learn is commonly called "2-step footwork." Once again, you may need a coach or top player to show you the proper technique. Once you have that, you are ready to move to the ball. See the articleFootwork in our coaching archives.

Set the robot’s Ball Frequency at 3, and its Oscillator Speed at 3.5. (You can judge for yourself how fast you want Ball Speed to be set, but don’t go too fast — this is a footwork drill, not a reaction drill.) Then set it to sweep over the forehand half of the table by setting the Sweep control to 1-4 (if you’re left-handed, set the levers to 3-6). The robot will now shoot out a ball about once every two seconds, one to the wide forehand, one to the middle of the table. Return each shot with your forehand, moving side-to-side with the 2-step footwork you learned from a coach, book, or video.

No matter how much you adjust the controls, you will probably experience some "drift" — the robot’s timing is not perfect, and will not always keep the ball to the same two spots, but it will correct itself quickly when it starts to drift off. You should follow the robot’s direction, and continue hitting forehands no matter where the ball goes. (You may want to "fine-tune" your robot as well to minimize drift by experimenting with the Ball Frequency and Oscillator Speed settings. Robots vary, so the settings for your robot may differ from those given here.)

When you become comfortable at this pace, increase Ball Frequency to 4, and Oscillator Speed to 5. This will shoot out a ball about once every 1.5 seconds. When you are comfortable at this pace, try setting Frequency to 6, and Oscillator to 8, which shoots out a ball about every 1 second. You can also set the Sweep control levers to 3-6 (1-4 if you’re left-handed), which will shoot balls to your backhand half of the table. Or increase the amount of ground you have to cover by setting the Sweep control levers to 2-4 (3-5 if you’re left-handed), which will send balls to the forehand two-thirds of the table.

Make sure to move side to side in a nice, smooth fashion, with your weight centered and balanced. Top players do these type of drills throughout their careers. So should you.

A variation of this drill is to have the balls hit to one spot on your backhand only, and you alternate hitting forehands and backhands from the backhand corner. Another is to set Sweep at 3-4, so that it covers the entire table, and alternate hitting forehands and backhands. Still another variation is to aim the robot to one spot on the table at a relatively slow pace. Alternate between hitting a forehand against the robot’s ball, moving to another position and shadow-stroking a forehand, and moving back in time to hit another forehand against the robot’s next ball.

ADVANCED SECTION

It’s assumed here that you have good technique, and can move side-to-side and play all forehand in a footwork drill. You must now master random footwork.

Random means just that — you don’t know exactly where the ball is going, as in a real game situation. Set the robot to sweep over half of the table, and play all forehand. (Later, try two-thirds of the table.) This time, set the Oscillator Speed and Ball Frequency so the balls come out randomly. Your job is to return them all with your forehand in a nice, smooth fashion. Make sure to turn your waist mostly sideways, and hit the ball roughly in front of your right leg — this gives you a larger hitting zone and more backswing (for power) than hitting the ball while facing the table too much. Try not to anticipate where the ball is going — simply watch and react. As the robot is about to deliver the ball to you, lightly flex your knees in anticipation of moving. Don’t wait and see if you have to move to the ball — always assume you will have to move. Even if you only have to cover one inch, move that one inch. Developing this habit of moving will be one of the most valuable techniques you can learn.

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SERVING

Jena Newgarden

By Larry Hodges

Many players who use robots forget to take advantage of one of the robot’s most valuable parts: the net that catches the ball. This is invaluable for service practice.

Turn off the robot, get a box of balls, and prepare for service practice! (Some players prefer to keep the robot on, with a slow feed, so that the robot feeds you a ball every 7-10 seconds or so to serve.)

Never serve robotically - let the robot do that! When practicing serves, visualize the serve in your mind before doing the serve. You should see the racket contact the ball, and the ball hit both sides of the table - before you even start the service motion. It’s called "visualization," and is used by top athletes in all sports.

As you get more advanced, sometimes visualize opponents and their returns. You may then serve a ball, and shadow-practice a rally against selected opponents, without the ball. Just don’t do this in public, or you might get locked up!

BEGINNING SECTION

The goal here is to learn the basic forehand and backhand topspin and backspin serves, and to learn some sidespin serves. There are many possibilities — watch any intermediate or advanced player, and you’ll see examples. One key point that many beginners have trouble with is that to serve sidespin, you must start with the racket to the side of the ball, and strike the ball with a sideways grazing motion. If you start with the racket directly behind the ball, you won’t get much sidespin. Learn at least one sidespin serve with the racket going from left to right, and at least one with the racket going from right to left. (See the article Serves in our Coaching archives for some pictures of these type of serves.)

INTERMEDIATE SECTION

The goal here is to put spin on the ball. Not just some spin — a LOT of spin. Table Tennis is a game of spin, and it begins with the serve.

To make a ball spin very fast, your racket (and therefore your hand) must move very fast. You can’t do this with a wimpy motion. Serving has been called a violent motion, and good servers sweat when practicing their serves.

Most spin comes from the wrist, and from a fine grazing motion. If you snap your wrist just before contact, so the racket moves very fast and just grazes the ball, most of your wrist snap will become spin. The tip of the racket is the fastest-moving part of the racket, so that’s where your contact should be.

Forget trying to serve on the table. Just make the ball spin out of orbit, with as much spin as possible. After you’re able to get lots of spin on the ball, then it’s time to make the ball hit the table. Make adjustments so the serve hits, but do not let up on the spin.

ADVANCED SECTION

The goal here is deception. You already are putting lots of spin on the ball, but you’ve noticed that top players are having no trouble reading your spin. (If you didn’t have so much spin on the ball, of course, they’d be killing your serve!)

Most service deception comes from a semi-circular motion. If the racket goes through a semi-ciruclar motion, it can create backspin, sidespin or topspin (or combinations of these) simply by varying the contact point. For example, if you use a serve motion where the racket starts out high, and goes downward, sideways and then up, you’d get backspin if you contact the ball on the way down; sidespin if you contact the ball as it moves sideways; and topspin if you contact the ball on the way up.

You can also fool an opponent by faking spin, and serving no-spin. This is done by just patting the ball, and then exaggerating the follow-through, or by contacting the ball at the base of the racket, which travels slower than the tip of the racket.

By learning a serve motion with a semi-circular motion, and doing it very quickly, you’ll be able to fool many opponents with your serve, take control of the rally, and win most of the points.

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Random Footwork

Jena Newgarden

By Larry Hodges

The biggest difference between playing a robot and hitting with another player is that a robot can hit everything the same, while a player's shots always have some variation. However, the Newgy robot is designed to give you random shots over a pre-arranged area, via the oscillator and the oscillator's range levers. You don't have to have it hit every ball to the same spot. This allows you to work on your footwork as well as your stroke.

On the back of the robot is the "robot oscillator range levers." (Editor's note: These are listed as "Oscillator Control Levers" in your robot Owner's Manual, part #'s 61 & 62. Or see it online in our Technical Pages.) These show the various ranges the oscillator can sweep through, depending on which setting you choose.

Assuming you've taken the time to develop decent forehand and backhand strokes(Editor's note: see Coaching Archives for several articles on forehand and backhand strokes), it's time to learn to move and stroke. More specifically, it's time you learned to cover a certain proportion of the table with each stroke.

Set the robot on topspin. Set the robot's oscillator's range levers to 1-4, so the robot sweeps over just the forehand side of the table. (You can adjust the robot to sweep over a smaller area when starting out, if the 1-4 setting sweeps too much area.) Put both the speed and frequency settings in the 3 to 4 range. Turn on the oscillator to about 6, and the balls will shoot out randomly to the forehand side. Return each ball with your forehand.(Editor's note: this assumes you are right handed. If left-handed, place control levers to the 3-6 settings.)

To do so, watch the robot very carefully, and move your feet to follow the direction it is pointing. Keep your weight on the balls of your feet, with your knees at least slightly bent(Editor's note: the taller you are, the more you need to bend your knees). Move with short steps, keeping your weight centered at all times. Try to be in position for each ball without having to reach—move into position so the ball goes through your forehand hitting zone.

Now set the robot's oscillator range levers to 3-6 (1-4, if you're a lefty), so the robot sweeps over the backhand side of the table. Repeat the drill with your backhand. When you feel comfortable with that, do the same drill—with the balls still sweeping over your backhand side—but use only your forehand from your backhand side.

It is important to learn to hit the forehand from the backhand side because often you will need this skill for put-away shots. You normally should not play backhands from the forehand side, however.

Next try covering larger areas of the table, but this time using both forehand and backhand. At first set the oscillator's range levers so that the robot doesn't quite cover the entire table, and practice making clean shots, both forehand and backhand, by moving to each ball, not reaching. As you improve, increase the area until you are able to cover the entire table this way.

When the robot is set to sweep over a relatively small area of the table, the frequency setting is not too important as the balls will effectively come out randomly over the assigned area either way. When you start covering the entire table, however, the frequency setting begins to matter. Start off relatively low, at a pace you can cover somewhat consistently, and work your way up to faster and faster frequencies. Consistency is the key; don't set it so fast that you are leaping and diving after balls!

As you improve, you can also increase both the robot's speed setting and how hard you hit your own shots. You should also try the above drills with the robot set on backspin, and either attack or push. Generally, attack backspin when using your forehand (unless it goes too short, in which case you should either push or flip), while either pushing, driving or looping with the backhand.

There are two basic skills the preceding drills are designed to develop. First are the footwork skills (Editor's note: see Footwork in our Coaching Archives for discussion of basic footwork principles) to cover the table by moving to the ball, not reaching, so that you can consistently hit clean shots. Second is what is called "neuromuscular adaptation"—the ability of the brain to quickly make a choice, and react. This is developed in the drills where you have to choose whether to use a forehand or a backhand. Developing these skills will greatly enhance your ability to play strong rallies comfortably.

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The Backhand Loop

Jena Newgarden

By Larry Hodges

Most players find it more difficult to create power on the backhand side. This is because the body limits the backswing on that side. However, with proper technique (and a lot of practice!), one can create nearly as much power (and perhaps more!) on the backhand side as on the forehand.

The most important power shot in table tennis is the loop. Although many players develop good forehand loops, many do not bother learning the backhand loop—seriously handicapping their games. This is especially true of shakehands players, who have a natural backhand loop when done properly. (Penholders generally do not backhand loop, but in recent years, more and more of them have learned to do so by using the back of their penhold racket.)

If a player has a forehand loop, but not a backhand loop, a simple short serve to the forehand, followed by a quick push or block to the backhand takes away this player's looping game. Even a very fast player cannot cover all of the table all of the time with just a forehand loop.

The backhand loop can be done against just about any type of shot. It is easiest to learn against backspin, but can also be done against topspin or a block. One advantage of the backhand loop over the forehand loop is that a player can often "wrist loop" a short ball on the backhand side—something that is more difficult to do on the forehand side.

A Newgy robot is an excellent way to learn to backhand loop. Set the robot on backspin, and aim it toward your backhand corner. Set the speed dial on 2. The robot will give you a pretty heavy backspin, so you will have to lift the ball.

When you feel you are comfortable looping both backhand and forehand, you should learn to loop from all parts of the table. Use the Newgy robot's oscillator to randomly put balls all over the table. Cover 50-70% of the table with your forehand loop, the rest with your backhand loop.

What follows is a sequence of Sean Lonergan, 1998 U.S. Collegiate Men's Singles & Doubles Champion. He is practicing on a Newgy robot, set on backspin, with the speed dial on 2.

The key thing to note about this sequence is how Sean uses nearly his entire body in the shot. Power is generated by the upward push of his legs when he unbends his knees, by the upward thrust of his upper body from the waist, by the rotation of his waist, by the rotation and upward thrust of his right shoulder, by the rotation of his arm on his elbow, and by the last-second snap of his wrist.

(Editor's Note: There are 8 GIF files that Larry has included with this article. The first seven are still pictures, and are great for studying the details of each phase of the stroke. The last picture is an animated GIF made from the 7 previous files. This file takes a while to load, but once loaded it will "play" all 7 still pictures in sequence, giving motion to the pictures and providing the viewer with a good idea of the "feel" of the motion and how one phase of the stroke leads into the next phase.)

Photos 1-3: Backswing

Sean bends his knees, and bends and rotates his waist to the left. Some of his weight is transferred to his left leg. He rotates his right shoulder forward and slightly down, and brings his racket down to knee level, between his legs. (Against topspin, he would swing more from his left hip.) His wrist is cocked backward so his racket tip points almost straight backward, with the racket face pointing nearly straight downward. Sean's elbow is well out in front of his body. Sean is balanced, with legs well spread.

Photos 4-5: Forward Swing and Contact

Just before starting the forward swing, Sean's wrist is fully cocked backward. He transfers some of the weight on his left leg to his right leg. His knees and waist begin to straighten, and his right shoulder lifts upward and rotates backward. His waist rotates forward. The movements of the knees, waist and shoulder together start the forward swing of the arm. Sean's arm rotates forward from his elbow—a motion similar to throwing a Frisbee. Just before contact, Sean's wrist snaps into the ball. Contact is made a little to his left, roughly in front of his left leg.

At the start of the forward swing, Sean's racket was pointing nearly downward. As it moved forward, it opened up, until at contact it is facing nearly straight forward.

The contact is a grazing motion. The finer the grazing motion, the more spin. If the ball sinks into the sponge more, there will be more speed. The ball should not sink all the way through the sponge to the wood. Sean's backhand loop is a good balance of speed and spin, although he can go for extra spin or speed on any given shot.

Photos 6-7: Follow-through

The follow-through is the natural progression of the racket forward and up. Sean's racket ends up about head level, to his right.

 

Photo-1 Photo-2
Photo-3 Photo-4
Photo-5 Photo-6
Photo-7 Photo-8

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LOOPING AGAINST BACKSPIN AND TOPSPIN

Jena Newgarden

By Larry Hodges

Many players would say that you aren’t really playing table tennis until you learn to loop. A loop in table tennis is an offensive stroke with the primary purpose of producing lots of topspin. Table tennis is a game of spin, and the loop is the primary example of using spin during a rally.

Many players (and coaches) feel a player should be able to hit many, many forehands & backhands, and reach a relatively high level of play, before learning to loop. Nothing could be more outdated. By the time a player has reached a relatively high level of play, the player’s strokes and major habits are set. If looping isn’t among those habits, it’ll be more difficult to learn later on. The moral is: it’s rarely too early to learn to loop. (For the purposes of this article, I will be mostly discussing the forehand loop. Against backspin, you may also use a backhand loop. Against topspin, however, the backhand loop is normally learned later on — although some may consider that to be outdated!)

This doesn’t mean that a complete beginner should be looping on his first day. However, once a player can hit a moderately good forehand with moderately good technique, he’s ready to begin the process of learning to loop, even as he continues to develop his other basic strokes. A player shouldn’t think of a loop as an advanced shot; it’s simply another shot, one that should be taught shortly after learning the basic forehand and backhand drive (also known as counter or counter-drive) strokes. The shot also adds excitement and variety to a player’s game, turning a basement player into a dedicated table tennis addict.

A beginner should start out looping against backspin, for three reasons. First, it’s more natural, as you are simply adding to the spin, rather than trying to change it. Two, the ball is traveling more slowly than a topspin (usually), and so is easier to learn against. Three, any player with sponge should learn to loop at least against backspin (even pips-out players), so this shot will be part of any player’s arsenal eventually. A player should learn to loop both forehand and backhand against backspin.

A robot gives a player a huge advantage in learning to loop. With a live player, you may be able to loop one ball against backspin, but then most players will block the ball, and the rally becomes a topspin rally. It’s hard to get much repetitive practice against backspin this way. Even if you practice with a chopper (who returns ball after ball with backspin), the various returns will have varying amounts of backspin and will not always come to the same spot, making it difficult to learn to loop. It’s hard enough trying to get the stroke right, the contact right, and keep the ball on the table. The last thing you want when you are learning to loop is for the incoming ball to keep changing its placement and degree of spin!

With a robot, a player can loop against the same backspin ball over and over, developing the stroke. Always remember that Correct Techniques + Constant Repetition = Well-Developed Strokes.

Once a player can loop against backspin, he’s ready to loop against topspin. This can be done either on a robot or against a living opponent who blocks. However, the robot has two advantages. First, it will give you a consistent ball, coming out at the same speed, direction and spin over and over, enhancing the learning process. Second, it allows a player to switch back and forth between looping against topspin and backspin, so both techniques can be developed together.

Many players learn to loop well against one type of spin (topspin or backspin), but not the other. This usually has to do with the shoulders. Against backspin, drop the back shoulder (right shoulder for right-handers, left shoulder for left-handers) when forehand looping. Against topspin, shoulder should only drop slightly, if at all. By switching the robot back and forth between these two spins, you can develop proper shoulder placement for both shots.

What is the difference between forehand looping against backspin versus topspin? Against backspin, the key is lifting the ball up, due to the backspin. You have to get very low by bending your knees, get your racket down, drop your back shoulder, and drive upward. The ball must be contacted on its very back, after letting it drop to about table level or even lower. Your force should go roughly toward the ceiling above your opponent’s head, NOT toward the other side of the table.

Against topspin, footwork is more important. The ball is coming at you faster, and the ball’s speed and spin make the ball rebound off your racket faster. You still need to get down some, but now your power is mostly forward. The knees bend only slightly, and the back shoulder stays up. The ball should be contacted toward the top, usually just after the top of the bounce, but before the ball has dropped to table level.

Here are a few drills for developing the loop on a robot.

BEGINNERS

The priority here is learning the stroke and proper contact. Start off by setting the robot on backspin in one spot, and practice it over and over, preferably with some input from a coach or player. Sometimes practice looping from the forehand side or middle, other times loop the forehand from the backhand side. Make sure to drive upwards, and just graze the ball. The goal is spin, not speed. A beginner should also try backhand looping against backspin.

When you feel comfortable looping against backspin, practice forehand looping against topspin. After all the lifting against backspin, your first few loops will probably go off the end. Try contacting the ball on the very top, drive forward, and keep your back shoulder up.

INTERMEDIATE PLAYERS

You’ve learned to loop, but want to loop even better. You should be forehand looping against both topspin and backspin, with slow, medium and fast loops, from and to all parts of the table. That’s 24 types of loops to practice already! (Not including backhand looping.) Get with it! (Intermediate players should also try the footwork drills given next for advanced players.)

ADVANCED PLAYERS

It’s time to throw in some footwork and randomness. Set the robot to sweep 50-75% of the table (both backspin and topspin ), and try looping them all with your forehand. (If you have a backhand loop, you may use that as well for some shots.) You should be able to cover more of the table against the slower-moving backspin. You might even try covering the entire table against backspin — if you’re very quick and very brave.

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HOW TO LOOP

Jena Newgarden

By Larry Hodges

The loop is the main offensive weapon in modern table tennis. It is a heavy topspin shot done by just grazing the ball in an upward and forward direction. The loop can be done forehand or backhand, but most players start out by learning the forehand loop.

The topspin on the ball in a loop does three things. First, it pulls the ball down as it travels through the air, so that a ball that might have gone off the end will arc downward and hit the table. This allows a player to loop at speeds that, without the topspin, the ball would probably not hit the table. Second, it makes the ball jump out and down when it hits the table. Third, it makes the opponent return the ball high or off the end of the table, if he doesn't adequately react to the topspin.

There are three types of loops:

(1) The slow loop is the slowest, spinniest loop. The player strokes mostly upwards and just barely grazes the ball. This gives the most topspin but the least speed. It is an excellent shot for setting up a putaway ball on the next shot, but some opponents may be able to attack it. Because of the fine contact, a player may miss the entire ball in attempting this shot. The slow loop is done mostly against backspin.

(2) The medium loop is the safest loop, with medium speed and medium spin. It is easier than a slow loop because the contact does not have to be as fine. To do a medium loop, you should sink the ball into the sponge a little more than with a slow loop, creating more speed but less topspin. The stroke is more forward than the slow loop. Another good setup shot, it is also a good rallying shot.

(3) The kill loop (or fast loop) is the most powerful and most difficult loop. A putaway shot, this loop is mostly speed but still has a lot of topspin. The ball sinks more into the sponge than with other loops, and the stroke is more forward.

In all loops, as with all other strokes, you have to stroke more up against backspin, more forward against topspin. Against backspin, a player can use the incoming spin to create more topspin, and so his loop will have more topspin. Against topspin, the very same loop will have less spin but more speed since the incoming topspin will make the ball bounce off the racket faster.

A loop is best done with an inverted sponge, preferably a relatively new sheet. A player can loop with pips-out, especially against backspin, but he will have less spin than is possible with inverted.

We will look at two photo sequences of looping: one against backspin, which we will cover in detail, and one against topspin, where we will cover the differences in looping against backspin versus looping against topspin. It is assumed readers are right-handed; left-handers should reverse.

FOREHAND LOOP AGAINST BACKSPIN

Start in a ready position, facing the table, feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart, right foot slightly back, knees flexed, weight forward, muscles relaxed, no more than an arm length's away from the table.

Photo 1: Rotate hips, waist and shoulders backward, which shifts weight to the right foot and brings the racket and arm backward. At the same time, right shoulder should drop and knees bend, getting body as low as possible. Arm should straighten out, pointing backwards and downwards, with wrist cocked slightly down. Weight should shift onto right foot. Left arm should counterbalance right arm throughout the stroke.

Photo 2: Start stroke by pushing upward with legs, and rotating hips and waist forward. Shoulders should rotate in a circle - you should "pull" with the left shoulder. Right shoulder should lift up, giving lifting power against the backspin. Just before contact, snap forearm into the ball smoothly but vigorously. Snap wrist smoothly at contact.

Contact the ball as it drops for maximum spin and control, just after the top of the bounce for faster, more aggressive loops. Contact is made mostly to the right side of the body, right after shoulder and hip rotation. Vigorously whip the racket around the outside of the ball, closing it as you do so and creating spin. Contact is a grazing motion, mostly on the back, center of the ball. Contact should be made in the top half of the racket, toward the tip.

Photo 3: Arm should continue upward and forward, finishing with the racket somewhere above the forehead. Weight should transfer to the left foot. Return to ready position.

FOREHAND LOOP AGAINST TOPSPIN

Follow the same techniques used against backspin, with these differences.

Photo 4: Backswing is more backward, not so much downward. Knees only bend slightly. Right shoulder only bends slightly, if at all.

Photo 5: Against topspin, the legs push forward, not upward. Shoulders rotate, but right shoulder does not lift up except perhaps slightly, since it was not dropped much (if at all) to begin with. Contact is on the top rear surface of the ball.

Photo 6: Follow-through is more forward, not so much over the head.

Photo 1Rotate hips, waist and shoulders backward

Photo 2Start stroke

Photo 3Arm should continue upward and forward

Photo 4Backswing Photo 5The legs push forward Photo 6Follow-through

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Looping Heavy Backspin

Jena Newgarden
By Larry Hodges
Heavy backspin-the very mention can strike terror in the hearts of even the best players. Even star players like Peter Karlsson of Sweden can have great difficulty with it. What's the problem, and how can it be overcome?

First and foremost is the simple fact that since there aren't that many choppers, most players get minimal practice against heavy backspin. Players can practice looping against a heavy push, but a player then gets only one practice shot per rally, as opposed to many repetitive practice shots in each topspin drill (i.e. forehand to forehand, backhand to backhand, etc.).

A second related problem is that even if a player does practice looping against a practice partner's push, the follow-up shot is normally a blocked return, so the player doesn't get to do repetitive practice, i.e., do the same shot over and over against the same spin until it becomes second nature. This is how players practice against topspin (forehand to forehand, backhand to backhand, etc.), but unless you have a chopper or a robot (or a coach feeding "multiball"), you can't do this against backspin.

Both of these problems can be corrected by practicing on a Newgy robot. Even on its lower settings, its backspin is pretty heavy. Not only can you use the robot to learn the proper technique in looping this type of ball, but it will enable you to gain the confidence you need to make this shot in a game situation.

How is the shot done? We will analyze a photo sequence of U.S. Olympic Team Member Todd Sweeris looping against a Newgy robot set on heavy backspin. (Speed setting was at 3.0.) He is looping at about medium speed —half his power goes to spin, half goes to speed. An interesting note is that when the various photos from the photo session were compared, Todd's stroke remained identical in each shot. Photos from the same part in each sequence looked so alike that they looked like copies from the same negative.

(Editor's Note: There are 6 GIF files that Larry has included with this article. The first five are still pictures, and are great for studying the details of each phase of the stroke. The last picture is an animated GIF made from the 5 previous files. This file takes a while to load, but once loaded it will "play" all 5 still files in sequence, giving motion to the pictures and providing the viewer with a good idea of the "feel" of the motion and how one phase of the stroke leads into the next phase.)

A close study of the photos show that Todd is generating power from nearly every part of his body—his legs, waist, shoulders, elbow, and wrist. Even his left shoulder generates force by pulling his body around through the ball. Looping is truly a "whole-body shot."

Photo 1: Todd has bent his knees, especially his right one. Feet are well apart, giving him a firm stance. His right foot is parallel to the end-line of the table. He has dropped his right shoulder, and transferred most of his weight to his right foot—yet he is perfectly balanced. His waist is bent and twisted backwards. His playing arm, which he has straightened out somewhat, is pointed downward and backward. He has brought his wrist backward, so that the racket actually points backward. Both eyes are on the ball as he waits for ball to come into his hitting zone.

Photo 2: Todd's right leg straightens out, beginning his body rotation into the ball. Right shoulder has begun to rise, while left shoulder is rotating backward—pulling his body around. Waist is untwisting and unbending. His wrist has begun to snap forward.

Photo 3: Contact. Right shoulder has been pulled up, and both shoulders are rotating. Elbow and wrist are snapping through the ball. Most of the power is directed upward. Todd is still watching the ball with both eyes. (Against a faster incoming ball, he probably would not watch it as far in.) He has contacted the ball on the drop, about table level high. (For a slow, spinny loop, he'd let it drop more; for a faster loop, he'd contact it sooner. For a loop kill, he'd contact ball around the top of the bounce.)

Contact is mostly a grazing motion. For a slow, spinny loop, ball should barely sink into the sponge. For more speed, ball sinks more into the sponge. Except for a loop kill, ball should not sink in so much that you hear the ball hit the wood of the racket. In Todd's case, you could barely hear the contact.

Photos 4-5. The follow-through is up and forward, with both shoulders spinning around. (Because Todd has so much power on his loop, he is able to drive more forward against a heavy backspin than most players. Most players would follow through more upward, less forward. For a slower, spinnier loop, follow through higher; for a faster loop, more forward.) Elbow and wrist have snapped completely, with elbow now very bent. Most of his weight has transferred to his left leg, yet he remains balanced and ready for the next shot.

 

Todd has bent his knees, especially his right one

Todd's right leg straightens out, beginning his body rotation into the ball

Contact. Right shoulder has been pulled up, and both shoulders are rotating

Photo 1 Photo 2 Photo 3

The follow-through is up and forward, with both shoulders spinning around-First Step

The follow-through is up and forward, with both shoulders spinning around-Second Step

animation

Photo 4 Photo 5 Photo 6
By Larry Hodges

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SMASHING

Jena Newgarden

By Larry Hodges 

One of the best drills you can do on your Newgy robot (or in any practice session) is a smashing drill. On the Newgy robot, smashing drills are easy to do, because the robot gives you a consistent ball to smash, and keeps giving you ball after ball. With a live practice partner, the rally would end after most smashes.

By giving you a consistent ball, the robot allows you to work out the kinks in your stroke, knowing that any mistakes are because of your technique, not because of your practice partner giving you variable returns (i.e., different placement, speed, height, depth, trajectory, or spin).

Because you get to do the stroke over and over with no stopping of play, you get a far more efficient workout than if you have to stop after each shot while someone fetches the ball. It is this constant repetition that enables you to develop a "repeating stroke," one that you can do over and over in any situation.

Once you have perfected the smash against the robot, you should practice against live competition so that you can learn to adjust to variable returns.

All the practice on the robot isn't going to help too much if your smashing technique is incorrect. In fact, practicing a poor technique makes it that much more difficult to change later on.

Using the robot, you can practice smashing against both topspin and backspin. The shots are similar, but with a few key differences.

SMASHING: The Basics

It is assumed that you have a decent forehand drive (Editor’s note: also known as counter, hit, or counter-drive) already, and can hit forehand-to-forehand somewhat consistently. What is the difference between a regular forehand drive and a smash?

Obviously, it is the speed of the ball that you are trying to maximize, while still controlling the shot. To maximize power, you need to use your entire body, especially the legs, waist, shoulders and forearm.

Backswing: Twist your waist around more than usual, so that you are nearly facing sideways. Bring your racket farther back than usual, with most of your weight on your back foot.

Even if the ball is very high, backswing almost straight back, then raise the racket to the proper height. The backswing and the raising of the racket should be one continuous motion. This enables you to keep better balance.

Forward swing: Start forward swing with the legs, then the waist, then the shoulders, and lastly the forearm. There should be a powerful forearm snap just before contact. (Editor’s note: this sequence of muscular contractions is very important for maximum acceleration. Start by pushing your weight forward with the back leg, then twist your waist and shoulders into the ball, and then snapping the forearm forward. If you start one muscle group too early or too late, your power will be greatly diminished.)

Contact: Sink the ball straight into the sponge so that it sinks through to the wood. There should be a loud wood sound. Make sure to hit downward on high balls. Whenever possible, hit the ball at the top of the bounce. (Editor’s note: this increases your margin for error and provides more possibiities for placing your shot.)

Try to keep the racket angle constant around the contact point, or you will lose control. Preferably, your racket angle should have been decided before you start the forward swing. It is okay to close your racket some as you swing forward, but never open your racket as you smash, or you will get an out-of-control backspin shot that will usually fly off the end. (This can be used against a high, short ball, but is not really necessary.)

Follow-through: Let the racket follow through naturally forward.

SMASHING AGAINST TOPSPIN
(See Photo 9 in Coaching Article Archives) 
You will have to close your racket slightly against topspin—aim slightly downward. Against a somewhat high topspin, you should start your forward swing with the racket slightly above the contact point, and hit slightly downward. The harder you hit the ball, however, the less the spin will take on your racket, and the less you have to worry about the spin. Watch for the sudden bounce as the incoming ball hits the table - the topspin will make the ball take a fast, lower bounce. 

SMASHING AGAINST BACKSPIN
(See Photo 16 in Coaching Article Archives)
 
The main difference in smashing against backspin is that you may have to start with your racket either directly behind or even slightly below the ball. Against a relatively low backspin ball, or against one with extremely heavy backspin, you will start with the racket slightly below the ball and stroke slightly upward. The harder you hit the ball, the less you will have to do this.

You can smash a backspin ball just as you smashed against a topspin ball, sinking the ball straight into the sponge and to the wood. However, you will get more control (but less speed) if you hit the ball with a slight upward motion, hitting the ball with more of a glancing blow, creating some topspin.

A ball with backspin does not bounce out very much, so stay close to the table. Normally, you should hit the ball at the top of the bounce, but many players hit backspins on the rise—sacrificing some speed for quickness. By hitting the ball on the rise, the ball also tends to bounce upward off your racket, helping you combat the backspin. This is especially effective for pips-out players.

 

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Forehand Smash Against Backspin

Jena Newgarden
By Larry Hodges

It's been called a "dying art," due to the loop-kill. Yet, it's one of the most dynamic point-winning shots in the game, and the scariest shot for a chopper to contend with. Playing a chopper without this shot is like running a mile with a bad limp—a severe handicap.

Additionally, not all players have the ability to loop-kill effectively. Since much of the power of a loop goes into topspin, there is less power for speed. Many players, especially older ones, do not have this extra power to spare. Others simply do not have the ability, time or interest to develop a loop-kill, and so smashing is simply the better option. (For one thing, it's a simpler shot to learn.) Still others are simply more talented at smashing than at looping.

Besides, what can be more devastating to an opponent who's spent years developing his loop against backspin, only to have you smash his push like it had no backspin at all!

When is the best time to smash against backspin? Obviously, when the ball is high. However, there are two other considerations.

First, a deep ball is harder to smash than a ball that doesn't land very deep on the table—a "medium-deep ball." A good smasher will often smash a ball that lands in this middle area, even if it is low. Deep balls, even slightly high ones, can be more difficult to smash than low, medium-deep ones.

Second, a player has to judge how well he has read the spin. Smashing is a precision shot, and if you read the spin well, you can smash even a pretty low backspin pretty well, especially if it doesn't land very deep on the table. If you think you've read the spin very well, then don't be afraid to go for it! There's nothing more satisfying than reading a low but medium-deep backspin perfectly, smashing it cleanly, and seeing the look on your opponent's face. (For one thing, many modern players don't realize how much easier these medium-deep balls are, and if you smash his "low ball" in, he doesn't know what to do next. Talk about intimidation!)

A good way to practice this shot is to set a Newgy robot on backspin, slightly high, and take your shots! Experiment with the depth of the robot's backspin shot, and test the difference between smashing deep and medium-depth balls. Practice smashing to all parts of the table. It's all about precision and control. You might also try hitting at less than full power (for consistency), or quick off the bounce (to rush an opponent).

In the five photos below (plus an animated sequence!), U.S. Collegiate Singles & Doubles Champion Sean Lonergan demonstrates his forehand smash against backspin, using a Newgy robot.

(Editor's Note: There are 6 GIF files that Larry has included with this article. The first five are still pictures, and are great for studying the details of each phase of the stroke. The last picture is an animated GIF made from the 5 previous files. This file takes a while to load, but once loaded it will "play" all 5 still pictures in sequence, giving motion to the pictures and providing the viewer with a good idea of the "feel" of the motion and how one phase of the stroke leads into the next phase.)

Photo 1: Backswing Begins.

Sean's weight is moving toward back foot. His waist is twisted backward, so that his right leg points sideways. His racket has been brought back, just below where contact point will be, with tip slightly down.

Photo 2: Forward Swing Begins.

Most of Sean's weight is now on right leg, and is about to transfer forward. His waist is about to untwist. He has turned his head to keep the ball directly in front of both eyes. He has also closed his racket. (Not all players do this.)

Photo 3: Contact.

Sean's weight is transferring to his left leg. His right leg is now pointing mostly forward. His waist has untwisted. Just before contact, his forearm snaps into ball. His racket has moved slightly upward to meet ball, and opens to about 90 degrees with the floor. He is watching the spot where ball was just before contact—contact happens too quickly to actually see, so he instead is getting a very good look at it just before contact. Contact is at the top of the bounce.

Contact itself is has a very slight upward motion (since racket started just below the ball, and rose to meet it), giving the ball a light topspin. However, most of the force is forward, so nearly all of the power translates into speed.

Photos 4–5: Follow-through.

Sean spins around on his waist, with racket moving around and up. His weight has transferred to his left leg. He finishes standing very close to where he started stroke, so even if the ball comes back, he is ready for the next shot.

Photo 1

Photo 2 Photo 3
Photo 4 Photo 5 Photo 6

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