The Natural Progression of Drills
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 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.
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.
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.
- Jena Newgarden