Robo-Pong Robots Are Great For All Ages - For Fitness, Training & Fun!

Training Tips — Larry Thoman

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HAND EYE COORDINATION 0

Before anyone attempts to learn a sport that involves hitting a ball with a racket or bat, it is necessary to do 

some preliminary hand-eye coordination drills. These drills must be mastered before any progress can be made 
for a beginner, these drills must be practiced until perfected before hitting a moving ball. For someone who 
already plays, take a few minutes to be sure you can do these drills. An experienced player can do these 
drills in one or two minutes. 

Lesson 2: Developing Basic Hand-Eye Coordination

  • Drill One: Using the shakehands grip, bounce the ball repeatedly on the forehand side of the 
    racket (the side of your thumb is on) fifty times without missing or moving the feet. The bounce 
    should be 8-10 inches above the racket. See photo 5.
  • Drill Two: Same as Drill One, but bounce the ball on the backhand side of the racket (the side 
    with your forefinger). See Photo 6.
  • Drill Three: Bounce the ball repeatedly on the racket, first with the forehand side, then with the 
    backhand side, then with the backhand side, alternating sides until 25 hits have been counted for 
    each side without missing or moving your feet.

Once you find these drills easy to do, you should be ready to learn the basic strokes. However, if you have 
trouble contacting the ball as it moving, more hand-eye coordination drills are called for. Several examples 
follow:

  • Do any of the above listed drills but move your feet by walking forward or backward, or sideways, 
    either to your the left or right.
  • Bounce the ball on the floor using your racket to dribble the ball.
  • Hit the ball against the wall, let the ball rebound off the floor then strike it again. (Just like practicing 
    against a wall in tennis).
  • Have a partner stand about 10 feet apart away and hit the ball with your racket so it strikes the floor 
    midway between you and your partner. Your partner will do the same. See if you can keep a rally going.
  • Have a partner stand about 5 feet away and volley the ball back and forth without letting it touch 
    the ground.

Photo 5: Basic Hand and Eye Coordination Drill (Forehand Side)
Notice that the racket is held with the shakehands grip in front of the stomach with the handle pointing toward the body. The ball is bounced only 12 inches or so above the racket, and the eyes follow the bouncing ball.

 

Photo 6: Basic Hand and Eye Coordination Drill (Backhand Side) 
Same as Photo 5 except handle of the racket points sideways away from you, and the back of the hand is turned up, instead of down.

UNDERSTANDING SPIN 0

More so than any other sport, table tennis is a game of spin. In order to be successful at table tennis, you must learn about and understand the different types of spin and how to counteract the effects of these spins on your racket. 

There are two general ways to contact a ball with a racket. The first is by using force. In other words, the racket is forced through the path of the ball in a manner similar to hitting a baseball with a bat. The primary result of force is forward direction or speed. This is often the only way that beginners and novice players have learned to contact a ball. 

The second way to contact a ball is by using friction–to contact the ball with a brushing motion so the rubber grabs the ball and makes the ball rotate. The primary result of striking the ball using friction is spin. The type of spin produced depends on the racket angle and the direction the racket is traveling. 

Top players primarily use friction to contact the ball. They apply spin to almost every shot, sometimes severe amounts of spin. Robo-Pong 2000 simulates the play of a top player–it produces spin on every shot it delivers. Untrained players often comment that the robot's spin seems unusually strong. While this is true for an untrained player, a trained, competitive player thinks the robot's spin is quite normal. So if the spin seems strong at first, bear with it and you'll soon adjust by following the suggestions and lessons later in this manual. Table tennis is much more exciting and dynamic when you can produce your own spin and control your opponent's spin. 

The figures below are simple explanations of the four major types of spins–topspin, backspin, right sidespin, and left sidespin. Each type of spin has two figures. The first figure shows what happens when a particular spin contacts a vertical, still racket. The second figure shows how to correct your racket angle to compensate for the effect of the spin on your racket. 

Topspin is normally produced by making your racket travel from low to high while brushing the upper surface of the ball. Topspin has a dipping effect on the flight of the ball. For this reason, a ball carrying topspin can be hit with full force because the spin will cause the ball to dip down and hit the table instead of going off the end of the table. When the ball hits the table, the topspin grabs on the table surface, which both compounds the dipping effect and slightly increases ball speed. Topspin is considered to be offensive in most cases. 

When topspin strikes a vertical racket, the spin will grab on the rubber surface and rebound upward, usually quite high and off the far end of the table. To correct for topspin and make the ball go back low over the net, tilt the leading racket face down toward the table and contact the ball on its upper surface. The more topspin on the ball, the more the racket needs to be tilted down. (See Figures G & H )

Figure G:Flight of Topspin Ball 
Topspin is produced by racket traveling from low to high, striking the ball on its upper surface. Trajectory is arched. Ball dips after bouncing and rebounds upward after striking a vertical racket. 


Figure H: Correction for Topspin 
Since topspin causes the ball to rebound up after contacting a vertical racket, it is necessary to tilt the leading racket face down toward the table and contact the ball on its upper surface. The correct racket angle will send the ball back low to the net. It is not necessary to move the racket forward to make the ball go back across the net.
 

Figure I:Flight of Backspin Ball 
Backspin is produced by racket traveling from high to low, striking the ball on its lower surface. Trajectory is flat. Ball rises slightly after bouncing and rebounds downward after striking a vertical racket.
 

Figure J:Correction for Backspin 
Since backspin causes the ball to rebound down when it strikes a vertical racket, it is necessary to tilt the leading racket face up toward the ceiling and contact the ball on its lower surface, sometimes actually on its bottom. It is also necessary to add some forward direction to your racket to make the ball go over the net.
 



An important fact to remember about topspin is it takes almost no effort to counteract its effect on the racket. You only need to angle the racket correctly. The topspin will cause the ball to go back across the net on its own. No force needs to be applied to your racket other than the effort it takes to tilt the racket. 

Backspin is generated by making your racket travel from high to low and brushing the ball on its lower surface. Backspin has a floating or rising effect on the ball. When the ball hits the table, the backspin grabs on the table, slowing the ball and making it rise slightly. It's very difficult use full force when doing a backspin return because the harder you hit it, the more it rises and it tends to sail off the far end of the table. Backspin is almost always considered defensive. 

When backspin strikes a vertical racket, the spin grabs onto the rubber and the ball rebounds almost straight down. The ball seems to die and lose all of its speed and spin. To correct for backspin, and make the ball go back low over the net, tilt the racket face up toward the ceiling and contact the ball on its lower surface while pushing the racket gently forward. The more backspin, the more the racket must be tilted up and the more towards the bottom you must contact the ball. (See Figures I & J ) 

Backspin is unlike topspin in that you must provide some forward momentum to make your return clear the net. It is more difficult and takes more energy to attack a ball with backspin because the ball has a tendency to go down. The lifting action necessary to make the ball clear the net takes away from the amount of forward force you can apply when attacking a backspin ball.In general, a topspin ball will be easier to attack than a backspin one. If you're a defensive player, backspin should be your spin of choice because it makes it harder for your opponent to attack forcefully. 

Right sidespin is created when your opponent brushes his racket across the ball from your right to your left. This spin has a curving effect on the flight of the ball. After leaving your opponent's racket, the ball will momentarily hook to your left, then curve to your right. When it hits the table, the spin grabs, and the ball jumps out and curves to your right. 

When right sidespin strikes a vertical racket, the spin grabs onto the rubber and jumps quickly to your left. To correct for right sidespin, the leading racket face must be angled to the right and you must contact the ball on its left surface. (See Figures K & L ) 

Left sidespin is produced when your opponent brushes across the ball with his racket from your left to your right. Left sidespin is exactly like right sidespin, but in reverse. Left sidespin hooks to your right, then curves to your left. When left sidespin hits a vertical racket, it rebounds to the left. To correct for this spin, angle your racket to the left and contact the ball on its right surface. (See Figures M & N ) 

Sidespins are seldomly used in their pure form in table tennis. Normally they are combined with topspin or backspin to produce a combination spin such as
 right sidespin/topspin or left sidespin/backspin. Combining two spins produces the effects of both, but to a lesser degree than if they were in their pure forms.
Figure K:Flight of Right Sidespin Ball 
Right sidespin is produced by your opponent's racket traveling from your right to your left. Trajectory is curved. Ball curves to your right after bouncing. Ball rebounds to your left after striking a vertical racket.
Figure L:Correction for Right Sidespin 
Since right sidespin causes the ball to rebound to the left when it strikes a vertical racket, it is necessary to tilt the leading racket face to the right and contact the ball to the left of its middle.
Figure M: Flight of Left Sidespin Ball 
Left sidespin is produced by your opponent's racket traveling from your left to your right. Trajectory is curved. Ball curves to your right after bouncing. Ball rebounds to your right after striking a vertical racket.
Figure N:Correction for Left Sidespin 
Since left sidespin causes the ball to rebound to the left when it strikes a vertical racket, it is necessary to tilt the leading racket face to the right and contact the ball to the left of its middle.


For example, a ball with right sidespin/topspin will both dip and curve to the right as it is comes toward you, particularly after it bounces on your side. To correct for this combination spin, it is necessary to contact the ball on its left upper surface by tilting the racket down and angling it to the right. 

Understanding spin and its effects is crucial to a player's success in table tennis. The player with greater mastery of spin will almost always control the play. By using spin, you can limit the responses of your opponent and make him play your game. Two important table tennis skills to develop are: 

(1) Be able to instantly judge the type and amount of spin on the ball. Deduce the type of spin by carefully watching the direction that your opponent's racket is traveling when it contacts the ball. Deduce the amount of spin from the speed of your opponent's racket at contact and the type of rubber being used. The faster your opponent's racket is going at contact and the finer his graze of the ball, the more spin he can apply to the ball. 

Rubbers vary in their ability to spin the ball primarily because of the grippiness of their top surface. In general, inverted rubber is grippier and will produce more spin than pips-out rubbers. But even within these two broad categories of rubber, the spin producing capabilities of rubber will vary widely. If in doubt, test the grippiness of an unknown rubber by running a ball across its surface and comparing it to your own rubber. 

(2) Once you determine the type and amount of spin, be able to instantly adjust your racket angle to correct for the spin's effect on your rubber. The tension of your grip, the looseness of your wrist, the flexibility of your forearm, and the position of your body all play major roles in developing this important skill.

TABLE TENNIS EQUIPMENT 0

There is an endless variety of rackets, blades, and rubber sheets available. It is beyond the scope of this manual to cover all the different kinds. Therefore I recommend getting a racket of good quality and medium price capable of producing all the strokes discussed in this manual. 


A racket is composed of two main parts-the blade or wooden part, and the rubber covering on the face of the racket. Please look at Photos 1 & 2 on the next page. According to official table tennis rules, the rubber covering must be colored bright red on one side of the blade and black on the other side. Plain wooden rackets with no rubber covering and sandpaper rackets are both prohibited. These types of rackets do not permit a player to perform the strokes described in later sections, so please use one of the recommended types. 

If you have been using sandpaper, plain wood, or hard rubber, a sponge rubber racket will feel heavy and uncontrollable at first. By following the instructions in this book, you will soon learn how to angle your new racket correctly to compensate for spin and how to apply your own spin to the ball. Robo-Pong 2000 simulates playing with inverted sponge rubber so you should be able to quickly adapt to your new racket. 

It is important to have your own racket and to take good care of it. Look for a racket that is comfortable in your hand and feels well-balanced and not too heavy or too light. The fit of the handle in your hand is important. Handles come in several shapes, so try out a variety of shapes and sizes before deciding on one. The wood from which the racket is made should be of medium stiffness, such as basswood, willow, or birch. The blade should be of 5-ply construction. A good starting blade would be the Newgy Acclaim or the Newgy Applause. 

The rubber is the next item to select. The most versatile rubber, and therefore the one that I strongly recommend for learning the basics, is inverted rubber. Inverted (pips-in) rubber has a smooth, grippy surface on top of a layer of dense cellular sponge (see Photo 2 ). The smooth, grippy outer surface is the best surface for applying spin to the ball. The underlying layer of sponge rubber gives a catapult action to the ball and increases the amount of speed that can be applied to the ball. This is the rubber choice of 95% of all top players. 

The rubber, such as Newgy Mercury or Omega, should be rated medium in spin and speed, high in control, and be 1 1/2 millimeters thick. If these ratings are not displayed on the package, you may need to ask the vendor for these ratings. Look for the ITTF logo on the rubber surface to assure that the rubber is manufactured to ITTF specifications. 

Be sure to keep your rubber clean by washing with soap and water after every use and storing it in a protective case. Dirty rubber does not play as consistently as clean rubber. 

Although you may buy preassembled rackets (blades with rubber already attached), it's much better to select the blade and rubber separately and have the supplier glue the rubber onto the blade. This way, you may replace the rubber without also replacing the blade. The rubber on most preassembled rackets is all but impossible to remove. Your rubber should be replaced when the tackiness of the surface is noticeably different between the center of the racket where you frequently strike the ball and the edge of the racket where you seldom hit the ball. If you need additional help with equipment selection, contact the Newgy Customer Service Department. 

When purchasing a table, look for a smooth, even surface of 3/4" thickness with a sturdy frame underneath. Your net set should be made of cord and have top and bottom strings for adjusting the net tension. Since the side nets of Robo-Pong 2000 attach to your table net, having a good net set is crucial to having the side nets function correctly. Cheap plastic nets and flimsy net posts do not offer enough support for the attachment of side nets. If you have trouble finding good net sets locally, call Newgy Customer Service. 

When setting up your table, give yourself plenty of playing room at the player's end of the table. You need a lot of space so your strokes will not be hampered and to give yourself a sense of unrestricted movement. Also it is helpful to keep your playing area clean and free of objects that balls can roll under or into.

Photo 1: Table Tennis Racket, Front 
Typical table tennis racket with inverted rubber, front view
Photo 2:Table Tennis Racket, Side 
Typical table tennis racket with inverted rubber, side view.

THE SHAKEHAND GRIP 0

While there are many ways to hold a racket, the shakehand grip is the most versatile and universally used of all grips. Therefore, I recommend using it for learning table tennis. If you have not used this grip, it may initially feel awkward. Please persevere, as this grip will permit you to develop all the strokes these articles willdiscuss and illustrate. Other grips may hinder or limit your development.

Lesson 1: Learning the Shakehand Grip

To use this grip, you essentially "Shake hands with the racket." Fit the edge of the blade snugly in the "V" of your hand between your thumb and forefinger. Grip the handle with your middle, ring, and little fingers. Finally, place the forefinger flat on one side of the racket head close to the bottom and the thumb sideways on the other side of the racket head. See Photo 3 and 4.

Hold the racket with just enough tension to keep it in place. Another person should be able to take the racket out of your hand and feel just a slight resistance while you maintain your grip. It is important not to grip too tightly. Too tight of a grip causes excess tension in the arm. The excess tension will, in turn, slow down your strokes and make it harder to adjust the racket angle to compensate for various spins and angles. This is not to say, however, that hand tension is constant, never shanging. Hand tension should increase just before ball contact on a hard hit shot and it may decrease on soft touch shots or serves.

Hold the racket so the edge of the racket is perpendicular to the floorand tilt your wrist slightly down. The wrist should remain in this downward tilt position throughout all your strokes. Do not force this downward tilt, but rather let the racket naturally fall into this position by relaxing the hand muscles. While we're talking about the wrist, do not let the wrist flop back and forth or up and down as you stroke the ball. Letting the wrist flop is one of the most common causes of mis-hit shots.

Photo 3: Shakehands Grip, 
Forehand Side

Notice how the side (not the 
front
) of the thumb lays across 
the top of the handle, and only three 
fingers wrap around the handle. Also 
notice the downward tilt of the wrist.

Photo 4: Shakehands Grip, 
Backhand Side

Notice how the knuckles lay on top 
of the handle, and the forefinger lays 
close to the bottom of the racket 
face.

 

10 Quick Tips To Better Table Tennis 0

  1. Know what spin is on the ball.The key to acquiring this important skill is to carefully watch the opponent’s racket when it makes contact with the ball. If the opponent’s racket is moving from low to high, the spin is topspin; from high to low, backspin; from his/her left to right, right sidespin; and from right to left, left sidespin.
  2. Compensate for the spin with your racket angle.If topspin, angle your leading racket face down and contact the ball above its center; if backspin, angle the leading racket face up and contact the ball below its center; if right sidespin, angle the leading racket face to the right and contact the ball to the left of its mid-line; if left sidespin, angle the leading racket face to the left and contact the ball to the right of its mid-line. While holding the racket at the suggested angle, stroke gently forward. Only after you have developed a “feel” for the spin should you stroke the ball with more force.
  3. Use your whole body when you stroke your forehand.Make sure that you rotate your hips and shoulders backwards during the backswing and then forward into the ball as you stroke your forehand. This motion is coordinated with a transfer of your body weight from the back foot to the front foot. The harder you hit your forehand, the more forceful your weight transfer must be. A common forehand mistake is to use only your arm to hit the ball, which severely limits your power and consistency.
  4. Maintain a good ready position.A good ready position is balanced and prepares your body to move instantly in any direction. Use it when preparing to return serves and between strokes. The basic sequence of a rally is as follows: (A) put yourself in a good ready position, (B) move to the ball with your feet, staying balanced, (C) stroke the ball, (D) return to ready position, and (E) repeat B, C, and D until the rally ends.
  5. Train your strokes until they are "automatic."When you first learn a new skill, you use a lot of mental energy to formulate a clear mental picture of how the stroke looks and feels. Once this mental picture is relatively accurate, you should then practice that skill repeatedly until you no longer have to think about how to do it. This is your “automatic stage”. Your best performance will come when you operate on “automatic” and you do not analyze your skill. You just “let it happen.”
  6. Use only your own racket.It’s important to get your own racket and then to use it exclusively. Every racket has its own “feel” and playing characteristics, and you will benefit greatly by using only one racket so you’re not always trying to adapt to a different one. Also, take good care of your racket; treat it with respect. Keep it in a case when you’re not using it. If you’re using inverted sponge rubber (smooth surface), you should wash it with soap and water or a special racket cleaner after every use.
  7. Develop sidespin serves.Few beginners use sidespin on their serves; whereas, top players use sidespin on almost every serve. Sidespin is almost always combined with either topspin or backspin; pure sidespin is extremely rare in table tennis. Particu larly useful is a sidespin/backspin serve that is low to the net and bounces twice on the other side of the table. This type of serve will severely limit your opponent’s serve return options.
  8. Keep your returns low over the net.In general, the lower over the net you place your shots, the less angle your opponent can use and the harder it is for him/her to hit it with power. The one exception to this rule is if you use lobs, you will want to place the ball very high over the net (and as close to the end of the table as possible).
  9. Practice more than you compete.By practicing, I mean all the time you spend developing your game by concentrating on some aspect you want to strengthen. The primary object during practice is to develop your game. On the other hand, when you compete, your main object should be to win, not to work on some part of your game. It is advisable to play practice games where the object is to blend in a new skill or tactic into a match-like situation before you compete. The emphasis for these practice games is still on development, not winning. And when you do compete, even though your main emphasis is on winning, you can still learn a lot about your game (development) if you analyze your matches after they are over.
  10. Join a table tennis club.To really make progress with your game, it’s important to find others with similar desires and interact with these people. A table tennis club is the best place to do this. Most clubs have players of all different playing levels. Find someone of similar playing ability as yourself and make a commitment to each other to practice regularly. Periodically test your progress by competing with players of higher ability. Furthermore, most clubs have a coach who can help speed up your development. To find a club in your area, contact USA Table Tennis.

BUYING YOUR FIRST RACKET 0

By Larry Thoman

This following question was posed on the table tennis newsgroup, rec.sport.table-tennis, by Henry Berlin:

I was recently told that when buying one's first racket, it is a good idea to get a blade designed for good control, but to get more offensive rubbers because it's important to get used to the feel of rubbers you'll use when you're better. Any thoughts on this would be greatly appreciated.

To which I replied:

Henry, you ask a good question, one that does not have a simple answer. Many coaches at present believe in starting their students with the type of racket your describe - a medium speed, flexible blade with spinny/fast rubber on it. With diligent practice, I believe this is a good strategy, but only if you're committed to practice many hours a week with this type of racket.

There are several dangers to this: (1) If you don't have a coach to help mold your strokes and improve your technique, the fast rubber often leads to shortened strokes and letting the rubber add speed/spin to your shots instead of using proper stroke technique. This often leads to a sense that you have greatly improved the speed/power of your shots, when in actuality, all you've done is use a faster/spinnier rubber. In crucial game situations, relying on the rubber instead of solid technique often leads to unnecessary losses. (2) The faster/spinnier rubbers will be harder to handle than rubbers that emphasize control. Without proper technique, your power shots will tend to go sailing off the end of the table and returning spinny serves, fast loops, and heavy chops will be very difficult.

The other prevalent theory on what to use for a starting racket is to use a medium speed, flexible blade with high control rubber on it. Use this combination to learn the basic strokes— counter, push, block, smash, beginning loop, and basic serve and serve return techniques. When you have good control over these strokes, switch to a faster, spinnier rubber and continue your development by mastering the various loop variations, learning to increase your power, and adding more complicated serve and serve return techniques. I does seem to hold true that there is some difficulty during the switchover phase as you adapt your strokes to the faster/spinnier rubber. But at least you'll have a solid foundation for your strokes already.

So which way do you go? In general, I would say that you should consider your objectives and personality. If you're committed to serious training with a coach, you tend to like power, and you don't mind spending $30-$40 per sheet of rubber, then perhaps the faster/spinnier rubber from the start is the way to go. If you're more of a recreational player and/or you play more games than you practice, I believe the second strategy would be advisable. Particularly if you're not looking to become a high level player and/or you don't want to spend a lot of money on your equipment.

In observing players (up to say 2000 or so rating), who have developed under these two theories, I can make a few generalities: (1) Players using theory one tend to have well-developed power games, but their table game often lets them down. If they're "on", they're awesome. If they're not, they look terrible. Often high control players who have good placement frustrate them. (2) Players using theory two often have well-developed table games with good ball placement but do not have strong looping games.

I developed using theory two. Even today, after playing for 29+years, I can rely on the basics to win many games, even though I seldom play any more. I still tend to view my looping game as much weaker than the rest of my game. Yes, I can loop, and loop very well, with all the many variations, but when it comes to crunch time in a tournament match, I stay with the tried and true basics of the game.

If theory two sounds more like the path you want to take, I would recommend the Newgy Applause. This is by far, in my humble opinion, the best buy for recreational grade rackets available today.