Using your Robot To Practice Serve Return
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 question was asked in an e-mail by Ulf Kahn last year. We encourage readers to send in your own questions. You may email us at 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.
How can I use my Newgy robot to practice the return of services?
I realize that the robot can't conceal the spin, but I am referring to the settings on top or backspins ? What speed setting should be used to simulate a likely serve? Top and backspin with or without sidespin?
As with all robot practice, please be aware that the robot is most useful at helping you to practice actual strokes. In this regard, you can quickly learn correct paddle angles and stroke motions to return almost any combination of spin, speed, and placement.
Another tip you can use to make the robot better simulate a particular serve you are having trouble with is to place your robot in a Robo-Caddy. Then drop down the caddy so that the discharge hole of the robot is around 6 inches above the table surface to decrease the serve angle and keep the ball lower to the net. You may also want to move the robot away from the center of the table to better reproduce the ball path that a serve would typically take from the server's backhand corner, for instance.
Whenever practicing serve return, you must act like you do not know what serve the robot is going to serve. So, in this regard, you must make yourself return to a neutral serve position in between each stroke. Your neutral serve position should enable you to quickly move into a good position to cover the entire possible serve angles and return serves that are short or long and fast or slow. And, as you noted, using the robot's oscillator will help to simulate the wide variety of serves that are possible.
Once you have the required skill to return the robot's serves effectively, it will then be necessary to continue to work on these skills with a coach or training partner. Your coach or practice partner should vary serves in a controlled manner so that you can then work on reading the server's motion to ascertain what spin s/he is applying to the ball and then selecting the correct stroke motion to return that serve effectively.
Your coach/training partner should start by giving you serves that are very robot-like and telling you what spin they are applying to the ball. Gradually, s/he makes the serves increasingly difficult and begins to NOT tell you what spin is on the ball. Eventually, s/he will serve to you just like s/he would do in an actual tournament match, where s/he is trying to make you miss every serve. At any time in this development process, if you find yourself missing more returns than you're making, you should back up, simplify the drill, increase your success rate again, and then redo the drill you were having trouble with.
Practicing serve return should be part of your everyday practice. But it is especially important before a tournament. Allot more time to the practice of these skills in the weeks immediately preceding a tournament.
- Jena Newgarden