THE BENEFITS OF USING A ROBOT

Jena Newgarden

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 atexpert@newgy.com 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. I have lost the identity of the person who asked this month's question, so I cannot properly give credit. Should any reader recognize this question, please e-mail me with the identity of the writer. Thanks.

Question: 
I'm 29 years of age and I started playing table tennis 2 years ago. It has become sort of a passion. Do you think it would be worth the cost for me? Please try to think as a player rather than as a salesman. Also are there are any disadvantages to Robo-Pong 2000?

Answer: 
Newgy robots are used by players of all levels, but are particularly useful for players who are in the development stages. In the U. S. at the top levels, Cheng Ying Yua (who has beaten Jan Ove Waldner), Jimmy Butler (several times U.S. Champion), Barney J. Reed (current national team member), and many others use our robot for practice. Several of our top coaches like Barney D. Reed, Richard McAfee (1996 Olympic TT Director), Marty Prager, and Larry Hodges all practically insist on having their students use robots so strokes can be "grooved" as quickly as possible. Anytime you're learning something new, you will find a robot helpful. The Newgy robot can be adjusted to challenge any player from beginner to national champion.

A robot purchase is a great investment; it's worth every penny. If you have a robot at home, you are more likely to play and practice than if you have to go to a club and hunt for a compatible partner. The single most important thing to do to improve is to play a lot. With a robot you will hit approximately 5-10 times more balls in the same amount of time than if you were training with a human partner (particularly in the earlier stages where both partners lack the ball control to keep a practice rally going for a long period.). Robot and multi-ball practice is a much more efficient method for practicing which dramatically cuts down the time to learn new skills. The Chinese introduced the concept of multi-ball training back in the 60's and is (arguably) one of the primary reasons why they have so many players that have high level skills.

A robot is not the complete answer to getting better, just a part. Develop strokes and techniques by repetition on the robot, then find a practice partner to incorporate random drills, variable shots, and other things that a robot can't reproduce. A coach guiding this entire process is invaluable also. Other aspects of a complete training program include practice competition (so you can incorporate skills learned in practice into an actual match-like situation), tournaments, calisthenics, league play, and proper nutrition.

The Newgy Robot's spins are very similar to a human's. As a former top level player (top 50 in the U.S.), I have no trouble going from playing on the robot to playing a player in a game. The Newgy Robot is limited, however, in that speed and spin must be increased or decreased at the same time. So it can produce a fast loop with fast speed and high spin, but not a slow loop with slow speed and high spin. A high-level player can also produce more topspin on a good loop than Robo-Pong 2000 can.

One of the least recognized advantages of using a robot is that you can use it to develop your aerobic conditioning. If you set the robot to oscillate (so you have to move your feet) and at a frequency rate that you can keep up with for at least 20 minutes, you can get true aerobic conditioning by keeping your heart rate elevated for an extended period of time. This is very difficult to do with a human partner, for instance, because you must stop at the end of each rally. Using a robot for your aerobic conditioning kills two birds with one stone: you improve your aerobic condition while at the same time you improve your table tennis specific skills. (The Player's Instructional Manual that comes with every Robo-Pong 2000 or 2040 robot includes a complete chapter on how to use your robot to improve your fitness.)

I do not know of any disadvantage to using a robot. However, the robot is limited in what it can do. As long as you keep in mind that the robot is not the complete answer, just a part in the puzzle, you will enjoy your practice and reap many benefits from its use.

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SWITCHING FROM ROBOT PLAY TO COMPETITION

Jena Newgarden

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 atexpert@newgy.com 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.

Question: 
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.

Answer: 
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.

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LEARN ABOUT SPIN TO IMPROVE YOUR GAME

Jena Newgarden

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 posed by Tim Miller on the TT newsgroup. We encourage readers to send in your own questions. You may email us at expert@newgy.com 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.

Question: 
The amount of spin the thing (Newgy Robo-Pong robot) puts on the ball seems nearly overwhelming to me. I can adjust it to top, right, left, bottom and so on, but there is no way to turn it off, or adjust the degree of spin-only the direction. Being an inexperienced player, I don't really know if I should anticipate this much spin from normal human recreational players.

I'm wondering if this is a real drawback to this device. On the other hand, maybe it will prepare me for tough players.

Answer: 
Tim,

I agree that the spin that the robot produces can be considered severe by those players not used to returning strong spins. Spin is a very important part of table tennis. Spin is used to both win points outright and to make it more difficult for the opponent to be offensive. All top players are masters of spin; whereas, most recreational players have little knowledge of how to spin the ball severely and/or return severe spin. The biggest difference between recreational players and tournament players is that tournament players produce and respond correctly to spin.

Newgy Robo-Pong robots were made to simulate typical tournament play. In this regard, every ball coming from the robot will have spin on it. While the amount of spin may seem severe to recreational or novice players, it is quite normal, if not somewhat less than normal, for advanced players.

If you want to improve your skill level, and I assume you do since you bought a robot, then the strategy should be to learn how to stroke the ball like the top players do (with spin) rather than continue to stroke the ball as recreational players do (without spin). If you will follow the lesson plans in the Instructional Manual that came with your robot, you will learn how to return the different spins by changing your paddle angle and then how to produce your own spin by learning the various strokes.

Once you learn how to produce strong spins, your recreational opponents will be at your mercy. Their return options will be severely limited by the type of spin you put on the ball. They will mis-return many balls or give you plenty of weak shots that you can then attack. I encourage you to hang in there and keep working on your game, striving to emulate the way top players play. I know it can be frustrating at first because it is a whole new way to play from the way you're used to playing the game. The end result though, is that you will become a much stronger player if you learn to deal with spin correctly instead of shying away from it.

If you still choose to limit the spin capabilities of the robot, there is something you can do, but it will also reduce the speed of the ball as well. All you have to do is remove the Friction Block in the head and glue or attach a spacer at the top of both Friction Block tabs. The object is to move the Friction Block away from the wheel so there is less "pinch" on the ball as it passes between these two parts. I would suggest trying something about 1mm in thickness at first and then going up or down from there until you find the desired reduction in speed and spin.

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Quick Method To Clear Nets And Table Of Balls

Jena Newgarden
Lawrence Ujimori 
Honolulu, HI 

(Lawrence will receive a free Robo-Tote carrying case for his tip.) 

Here is an effective tip to remove balls caught between the Robot's side net and side edge of the table. Use your Pong-Pal and line it up parallel to the side edge of the table beneath the trapped balls. Simple lift upward and all the trapped balls will go on the table. This way no trapped balls will fall to the floor. 

Editor's Note: I shot a quick video showing this tip in action. This is a great way to clear trapped balls from the side nets and then push all the balls on top of the table into the Ball Return Trays of your robot.

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SETTING UP A TABLE TENNIS ROOM

Jena Newgarden

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 posed by Dave Shook on the TT newsgroup. We encourage readers to send in your own questions. You may email us at expert@newgy.com or fax orwrite us. All questions cannot be answered, but every month we will pick out one of them to answer in this column.

Question: 
I just moved into a new house and plan to put a table in the basement. The room is 17' wide and 22' long, so I already know from the recent posting on "space needed for a table" that it should be larger, but that was the best I could do. Anyway, I need to install lighting and the obvious choice for a novice like myself would be fluorescent lights. Any other recommendations? Track lighting?

Answer: 
Dave,

It's great that you've decided to add a Table Tennis Room (TTR) to your house. Your room dimensions are very similar to the TTR in my house. As is typical in many American homes, these are the average dimensions of a two car garage, which can be converted into a decent table tennis room.

To situate your light fixtures, I would start with one mounted in the center of the room directly over the center of the table when it is positioned in the center of the room. Then I would add lighting going towards each of the 17-foot walls. Recessed light fixtures are best, but commonly, most converted garages will dictate surface mount fixtures because of the ceiling height and the direction of the ceiling joists.

In situating the lighting, give priority to positions close to or over the table, where the majority of rallies will take place. Lighting close to the wall is less critical because your body will be taking up space in front of the walls in addition to the space required for your backswings. Your eyes will be 2 to 3 feet away from a wall even when your "back's against the wall".

As a minimum, I would suggest at least one 4-foot double tube fluorescent fixture centered above the table net and another similar fixture centered with the table about 2 feet in back of each endline (See Layout A). All fixtures are parallel with the endlines of the table. Fixtures should be shielded by an opaque covering to prevent glare from direct eye contact with the bulbs.

To improve on this minimum, 4-tube, 4-foot or 2-tube, 8-foot fixtures could be substituted. The 4-tube fixtures will concentrate more light over the table, while the 8-foot fixtures will spread out the light more evenly across the entire room. Another option would be to add 2 more fixtures (Layout B). In this case you could have one fixture in the center, 1 at each end of the table and 1 lighting up the playing areas in back of the table. This would be ideal.

Also with only 22 feet of room, it will be difficult to play a competitive match without feeling quite hindered (only 6.5 feet of backup room for each player). That is however, an ideal amount of room for robot play. With a 9 foot table and approximately 1 foot for the depth of the robot attached to the end of the table, you would have 12 feet of backup room to practice strokes and footwork relatively unhindered if you push the table up against a wall.

I'll give you one more tip here too, although it has nothing to do with the lighting. If you have a choice of flooring, go with wood. One of the least expensive wood floors is a wood parquet floor. Home Depot and Lowes have wood parquet flooring for under $2.00/sq. ft. This is cheaper than many linoleum flooring materials. This is what I used for my TTR 3 years ago and I've been extremely happy with it.

Happy Ponging!

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Faster Ball Collection For Serve Practice

Jena Newgarden

Manuel Cruz Jr. 
Vandenberg AFB, CA

Whenever I use the ball collection net system for practicing my serves, I manually have to remove the balls from the ball trays & Center Trough to start again, but not any more. I removed the robot body from the net system and then I cut a three inch hole in the small well/pit below where the robot unit normally sits. When I'm ready to practice serves, I remove the robot body, set a 5 gallon bucket underneath the Center Trough to catch all the balls that drop in and begin practicing serves. Now all I have to do is take the full bucket of balls and refill my practice tray and return the bucket under the collection system and continue practicing.

(Editor's Note: This is an excellent tip to make serve practice more trouble-free. This will work well with all Robo-Pong 2000 and 2040 robots that are mounted to the table. This will not work for 2000's and 2040's that sit in Robo-Caddies. Also, while this technically will void your warranty and service policy, most of the time it is unnecessary to send in your net system when a robot is repaired, so our service center would never be aware of your alteration.)

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Black-light Fun!

Jena Newgarden

Valerie Kowalczuk 
Houston, TX

Convert your balls, paddles, and net to florescent using permanent fabric markers found at most art stores. Using the circular black-light from General Electric, turn your recreational center into black-light fun for a sport with Olympic intensity. Besides getting the teens interested in playing, it also increases one's ability to concentrate and focus on the ball. It improves one's aim and spin.

An added bonus is to mark your balls like the Spalding tennis balls with two different colors. You can use the "sports" basketball table tennis balls for a guide. This helps one see the spin, especially using florescence under black-light.

Editor's Note: It would also be cool to paint the edges of your rackets with florescent paint or wrap the edges with florescent tape. This would help you see the direction of the racket and gauge spin better. This tip sounds like a great party pleaser for those teen get-togethers.

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Correct Wrist Position During Strokes

Jena Newgarden

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 Mark Galecki. We encourage readers to send in your own questions. You may email us at expert@newgy.com or fax or write us. All questions cannot be answered, but we will pick out one of them to answer in this column.

Question: 
I use your lessons to train with your robot. You say, in the lesson on Shakehands Grip:

"Hold the racket so the edge of the racket is perpendicular to the floor and 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."

I find it very awkward to do this for forehand push. Basically, when doing forward push, the natural wrist position for me is tilted in the direction of the thumb, especially if I push down-the-line (to the right court as seen by me). Should the "downward tilt" you are talking about be always interpreted as "towards the little finger", as it is in the ready stance, or should one forget it in case of forehand push?

Answer:
Mark,

Please do not let the wrist position bother you too much. It is true that many players find the "upward-tilt position" more comfortable for backspin strokes like the push. As a matter of fact, it may be preferable because this wrist position allows you to snap your wrist through the ball to apply heavy spin or not snap it, resulting in light spin.

The reason the book was written as it was is that it is intended to be guide to the basics. As such, it is much simpler, and usually leads to more consistent strokes, if the student does not use wrist when learning the strokes (except serves). Therefore, the quoted passage you sent in is a good rule of thumb when first learning the basic strokes. Once the basics are learned, however, wrist action becomes a key ingredient to many strokes at the higher levels.

Keep this in mind when you're reading our instructional manual or any other table tennis instructions. There are very few absolutes in our sport. In general, if you can consistently execute a certain shot and that technique gains you more points than you lose with it in a game, then it is OK, no matter who might declare it "bad form".

So, in this specific instance that you wrote about, your wrist position is perfectly OK as long as you can consistently perform the stroke and the resulting return doesn't cause you to consistently lose points in a game.

Thanks for writing.

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Unconventional Grip?

Jena Newgarden1 comment

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 Jeff Greenberg. We encourage readers to send in your own questions. You may email us at expert@newgy.com or fax or write us. All questions cannot be answered, but we will pick out one of them to answer in this column.

Question: 
I have been playing ping pong for over 20 years but only recreationally. I have an unconventional grip (taught to me by my father) in which my forefinger AND thumb are behind the blade. I use the same side of the blade on both sides. It helps me use more topspin on the backhand and quickens the transition (I think).

I play anywhere from 2 to 4 feet from the table. The grip also seems to make blocking easier.

Anyway, I was curious if this style of mine has a name and if there are any blades appropriate to it. In the past, some paddles dug into my middle finger because the bottom wasn't rounded enough.

Make sense? I include a picture of me gripping a large paddle in a similar way.

Answer:
Jeff,

What you are using is a variation of the "Seemiller" grip, named after Dan Seemiller who is 5 times National Champion and who got as high as 18th in the world. Sometimes this grip is also referred to as the "American" grip or "Windshield Wiper" grip. This was a popular grip in the 70's and 80's and was used by both Dan Seemiller and Eric Boggan, who are the only American-born players to break into the world top 20 in the last 30+ years. So it is an acceptable grip.

In the last decade or so, however, this grip has slowly gone out of favor. To the best of my knowledge, there is no one currently on the world ranking list that uses this grip and there are only a few in the top 100 or so in the US. There are several reasons for this, but mainly it is because of 3 weaknesses of this grip:

  • Inability to attack underspin balls placed wide to the backhand.
  • Inability to defend against attacks to the wide forehand.
  • Difficulty in sustaining a strong forehand attack when the first attack is counterattacked.
  •  

    On the other hand, this is a great grip for:

  • Close to table blocking and counter-driving and smashing.
  • Use of two different rubber surfaces (usually inverted and either anti or long pips) and flipping between the two for service receive or as a variation in the middle of a rally.
  • No switch point weakness.
  •  

    Most players using this grip use a flared style handle and usually a medium or medium fast blade. Dan, Eric, and most everyone else I've seen use this grip let their forefinger wrap around one side of the blade resting the paddle edge in the 1st joint of the forefinger and letting the opposite edge of the blade rest between the 1st and 2nd joints of the thumb. This hand position will prevent the edge of the paddle from digging into your middle finger and give greater stability to your forehand strokes. When returning underspin shots with the backhand, the thumb is moved onto the blade surface in roughly the same position as shown in the picture you sent in of your grip.

    Thanks for writing and good luck with your game.
     

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    Ping Pong Table Skirt

    Jena Newgarden
    John Sternig of West Bend, WI

    Have you ever gotten fed up with reaching under your ping pong table for all of those stray balls after a hard practice with your Newgy table tennis robot? Here is a great, affordable solution that will give your table a really professional feel.

    Supplies:

    • Fabric of your choice (approximately 28' x 30")
    • Staple gun with short staples and/or Velcro


    Instructions for stapling:

    • NOTICE: Stapling into your table with staples that are only about as long as half of the thickness of your table top will not damage the playing surface but may void any warrantee on your table.
    • Begin at mid-table and staple the top corner of your fabric to the underside of the table.
    • Continue stapling the fabric around the perimeter of the table every 6 inches or so, making sure that the fabric is pulled tight. (Make sure to pull especially tight when stapling around corners to get a sharp look.)
    • When you come back to where you started to may want to Velcro shut the opening between the 2 ends of fabric.


    Instructions for Velcro:

    • Begin at mid-table and Velcro the top corner of your fabric to the underside of the table.
    • Continue Velcro-ing the fabric around the perimeter of the table every 4 inches or so, making sure that the fabric is pulled tight. (Make sure to pull especially tight when stapling around corners to get a sharp look.)
    • When you come back to where you started, you may want to Velcro shut the opening between the 2 ends of fabric.


    Total Cost: Approximately $20 (Depending on fabric used)

    Viola! Now you have yourself a very professional-looking ping pong table with a skirt, which will keep balls from collecting under it and even doubles as a great place to store equipment like your table tennis robot!

     

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