Stay in the Right Zone in Table Tennis – Samson Dubina

Jena Newgarden

Professional table tennis players clearly understand their potential and limitations.  They know how hard they should loop, where to loop, when to loop, and when not to loop.  Ma Long loops most of his balls with 60-95% power.  His selection on how hard to loop depends on his positioning, his distance from the ping-pong table, his opponent’s return, and his opponent’s positioning.   Timo Ball loops most of his balls with 40-80% power; this is the zone that he feels most comfortable playing.

Now, let’s move the scenario to YOU…

You have a played a great table tennis match looping consistently from both forehand and backhand.  You are playing an opponent that you have never beaten before.  You are at 2-2 in games and now you have match-point at 10-9 in the fifth.  You know that you should attack first.  How hard should you attack?  Within your zone!  Know your limits and do what you do best!

If you loop too hard, you might lose control and make an unforced error.  If you loop too soft, you might lose control because your opponent’s backspin push will bite into your rubber making it more difficult for you.  Swing through the ball, complete your stroke, have confidence in your loop, and treat it like any other normal loop.  Remember, you need to have some racket-speed in order to generate spin.  Spin gives you control, which makes you more consistent.  Consistency is one of the main keys to winning every table tennis match!

Samson Dubina

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The Surprise Move in Table Tennis

Jena Newgarden
Most offensive table tennis players try to serve short and receive short.  If you are an offensive player, I would recommend that you use this strategy… most of the time.

If you serve long and push long, then your opponent will have plenty of swinging room and likely loop first, forcing you into a defensive position.  A short, low serve is much more difficult to attack because the table is in the pathway of the loop.  However, after you have used this strategy for several points, a smart or observant opponent will probably catch on and begin pushing back short.  Once he has proven that he also has the ability to push back short, your plan will be stopped because in return it will be difficult for you to use your strong loop.  For this reason, I would recommend an occasional long push or long serve to the backhand.  When pushing long or short, I recommend pushing quick, off-the-bounce for several reasons.

#1 – By pushing off-the-bounce, you will be able to disguise both short and long pushes with the same backswing.

#2 – By pushing off-the-bounce, you will be able to keep your push much lower.

#3 – By pushing off-the-bounce, you will be able to take the reaction time away from your opponent for an even faster surprise.

If you mistakenly let the push rise to the top-of-the-bounce or even drop, then your opponent will likely be able to predict a long push and your push will often be much slower.  As a surprise, it is critical that you quickly move your body forward by stepping forward with your right foot, lean over the table, stop your body momentum, and lightly brush the ball just after it contacts your side of the table.

So why should you push long to the backhand instead of long to the forehand or middle? Table tennis players have a much larger hitting zone on the forehand and middle.  Even if you surprise your opponent to the forehand, it will be quite easy for him to recover, even if the push is slightly higher, lower, deeper, shorter, faster, or slower.  There are many positions that he can contact the ball and still safely make a forehand loop.  With the backhand loop, the body is in the way.  A quick surprise push will be so sudden to your opponent that he will not have time to move back nor will he have time to rotate his body to the side.  With a small hitting zone, your opponent will likely be forced to push back, which will set up your strong looping game.

Now let’s reverse roles…  So what if your opponent uses the long push to your backhand?  What should you do?  That’s exactly what I’m going to demonstrate for you in this 2 minute video clip:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wN1RZx-DWDs

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Table Tennis Tips – Short and to the Point

Jena Newgarden
I have written hundreds of table tennis articles and blogs throughout my career as a professional table tennis player and coach.   I realize that sometimes it can seem overwhelming to try to figure out which articles to read and which tips that you should be applying to your game.  For this reason, I have written this summary article which will summarize many of the table tennis tips I discuss in my articles in just one sentence – short and to the point.

When developing a good loop, focus on spin rather than speed.

When developing a good push, contact the ping-pong ball early and keep the ball low with spin.

When developing a good block, try to bend your knees, lean forward, get your feet in position, and relax your grip on your table tennis racket.

When developing a good smash, focus on getting your feet in position first then take your backswing to the appropriate height depending on the ball placement, ball depth, ball height, and spin.

When developing a good serve, focus on serving low with spin while using the serves that best setup your game, training them in a table tennis tournament environment, varying the quality of spin, and using them in practice matches as well.

When developing a good serve return, focus on having the proper ready-position, reading the spin from your opponent’s table tennis racket, moving to the ball, reading the bounce, then adjusting and readjusting just before contact.

When developing a good table tennis strategy, focus on your opponent’s strengths, weaknesses, serve, and serve return.

When developing a good perspective on winning and losing in table tennis, read the book 7 Days in Utopia.

When developing a good level of confidence, remember that: trust is a must or your game is a bust.

When developing a good deception, focus on varying the spin, speed, placement, and type of shot while still staying within your means to maintain at least 70% consistency.

When developing a good base of physical training, focus on lower body and core strength and speed – focus on speed and flexibility, not bulky muscle.

When developing a good table tennis tournament plan, be sure to set goals – when you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.

When developing good rallies in table tennis, focus on anticipating the incoming ball based on the placement of your hit, the type of your hit, the spin of your hit, watching your opponent’s racket, while watching the incoming ball.

When developing a good tournament game, try to play at least one table tennis tournament per month to test your skills and test your ability to perform well under pressure.

When developing a good strategy against loopers, try to attack first and force them to block or lob.

When developing a good strategy against blockers, be patience and work the point until you are ready to hit a winner.

When developing a good strategy against choppers, try to attack the middle often and move them in-and-out instead of side to side.

When developing a good strategy against lobbers, try to see which balls are hitting near the net (smash down) and which balls are hitting near your endline (smash forward).

When developing a good strategy against lefties, try to expose the wide forehand with explosive loops then curve wide the backhand when they are away from the ping-pong table.

When developing a good strategy against long pips, try to push deep to the pips in order to get an easy no-spin ball to loop.

When developing a good strategy against female table tennis players, try to loop with plenty of spin deep on the table, which will be difficult for them to smash or block.

When developing a good power shot, focus on using your core muscles while relaxing your arm as much as possible – at contact, focus on the acceleration.

When developing a good mental game, try to focus on the performance and strategy rather than the benefits of winning or the consequences of losing.

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What to Look for in Table Tennis

Jena Newgarden
When watching a professional table tennis player, what you are looking at?  Are you looking at the bright color of his shoes, the weird design on his shirt, his massive leg muscles, or the funny expression that he makes when serving?  If so, you aren’t paying attention to the most important things if you want to learn how to improve your table tennis game.

Here are the key components of a table tennis game to look for if you want to learn from observing.

1. Preparation

Watch how he goes through his pre-point routine before stepping up to the ping-pong table.

2. Serve and receive

Watch how he stands to receive a serve – his distance from the table, his racket position, his racket height, his foot positioning, his balance.  Watch when he serves – his positioning, his backswing, his contact point, his follow through, and his return-to-the-ready position.

3. Footwork

Watch how he moves for each ball, watch how he anticipates for the next ball, watch how he continues to adjust and re-adjust for each ball with large leaps as well as micro steps.

4. Shot Selection

Watch how he chooses when to loop, when to block, when to counter-loop, when to stay close, when to back up – watch his shot selection.

5. Time Between Points

Watch how he takes his time between points.  Watch as he walks back to pick up the ball, how his body language is showing his thoughtfulness as he mentally gears up for the next point.

Instead of trying to watch all of these elements at once, I would recommend watching a short YouTube video five times.  Each time, watch a different aspect of the table tennis game as outlined above.  By training yourself to watch each aspect separately, you will better be able to learn the details of the sport of the table tennis.

Samson Dubina

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The Attacking Mindset in Table Tennis

Jena Newgarden
If you are an offensive table tennis player, there are two aspects of the game that you need to master.

The first aspect is – Creating the opportunity to attack first.  I hear many table tennis club players telling themselves throughout the night, “Just use your attack!”  Well that sounds nice, but how are you going to create the opportunity.  There are several ways.

  1. Try to loop long serves
  2. Try to loop half-long serves
  3. Try to serve short and push short so that your opponent can’t easily loop first
  4. Try to loop most of the long pushes
  5. Try to loop most of the flips

After you make the opening attack, try to continue attacking by following up with another ball and another ball.  Against a good table tennis player, it will likely take 3-4 strong attacks to win the point.

The second aspect is – Being consistent in your attack.  Even if you can create the opportunity to attack, that doesn’t mean that you will win; that merely means that you have the ability to attack.  Your target should be to make 80-90% of your attacks on with both your backhand and your forehand.  If you are making 100% of your opening attacks on and still losing, then you possibly need to give more spin variation, speed variation, and placement variation.  If you are inconsistent on your attacks, then consider adjusting your technique in the following ways.

  1. Try to move into position better
  2. Try to read the amount of spin that your opponent is giving you
  3. Try to adjust the height of your backswing based on the spin and based on the height of the ball
  4. Try to adjust the length of your swing based on the speed of the ball
  5. Try to adjust your racket angle based on the spin on the ball
  6. Try to focus on spin as your primary weapon and use speed as your secondary weapon

You should significantly see your attacking game improve if you focus on these key areas. Good luck!

Samson Dubina

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Concentration in Table Tennis

Jena Newgarden
I have a little homework assignment for you.  Stand two feet away from a 5-gallon bucket and toss a penny into the bucket.  Easy, right?  Now stand two feet away from a gallon of milk (with the lid off) and toss a penny into the milk container.  This requires more aiming and more focus, right?

The same is true in regards to your table tennis game.  The amount of concentration that most table tennis players use is directly related to the task at hand.  A very spinny push to your middle might require some fancy footwork and some good concentration to successfully loop.  A sidespin counter loop wide to your forehand might require perfect timing and good concentration to counter loop back around the net.  Everyone puts good concentration on these difficult shots.  HOWEVER, many players lose focus on “easy balls” like a short high-ball that could easily be smashed for a winner.  As soon as they lose 5% of their focus then these players usually don’t move well, become sloppy, lose their spin, miss the “easy ball”, and then become frustrated.  Approach these “easy balls” as being difficult balls.  Approach these balls with 100% concentration.

The same mental flaw is true in regards to playing lower level table tennis opponents.  The amount of concentration that most players use is directly related to the task at hand.  Even when playing lower-rated opponents, bring out your best game with 100% focus and you will have no regrets in your table tennis matches.

Samson Dubina

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Looping Serves in Table Tennis – Samson Dubina

Jena Newgarden
Looping serves in table tennis is a bit more challenging than many players imagine.  However, if you follow the right thought process and use the right technique, then you will be on your way to major improvement.

Ways to improve your looping serve in table tennis:

  1. Watch your opponent’s positioning at the table and body language to possibly see if they will serve short or long.
  2. Next, watch their backswing, contact point, and where the ball contacts their side of the table.  At this point, you need to start adjusting your feet while keeping your hand in front.
  3. Next, watch as the ball contacts your side of the table.  If it hits in the first half (near the net), then it will likely be short and you need to adjust in with your legs, upper body, and racket.  If it hits in the back half of the table, then it will likely be long enough to loop.  These balls will vary based on spin as well.
  4. Next, if the serve is half-long, then prepare to loop by keeping your knees bent, adjusting near the table with your body, and shortening your backswing while starting at the appropriate height and angle.  If it is heavy backspin, then start lower and open your angle.  If it is no-spin, then start higher and close your angle slightly.  If the serve is fast and long, then give yourself plenty of space from the table, start at the appropriate height, let the ball come back, then spin the ball.
  5. Next, focus on spinning the ball with good placement.  The more spin that you are able to create when looping this serve, the easier it will be to control the ball.  Without applying enough spin, your opponent’s spin with bite into your rubber and cause more errors.  Generally, you should loop the half-long balls with about 30-60% power and you should loop the deep serves with about 50-80% power.

Avoid the following mistakes with your looping serve in table tennis:

  1. Neglecting to watch your opponent’s racket
  2. Neglecting to move your feet based on the opponent’s racket angle and incoming ball
  3. Neglecting to adjust your racket starting position based on the opponent’s spin
  4. Neglecting to make a secondary adjustment with your feet
  5. Neglecting to apply enough spin to the ball

Samson Dubina

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Strive for Dexterity in Table Tennis – Samson Dubina

Jena Newgarden
Every table tennis player should strive for dexterity.  This is a skill that some players are naturally more gifted with and some players are not.  The good news is that it can be trained as well.  So what is dexterity?

Dictionary Definition of “Dexterity”

dex·ter·i·ty

noun \dek-ˈster-ə-tē, -ˈste-rə-\

: the ability to use your hands skillfully

: the ability to easily move in a way that is graceful

: clever skill : the ability to think and act quickly and cleverly

In regards to table tennis, dexterity can mean several different things.  It can mean…

1. Having the ability to learn a new stroke

2. Having the ability to relax even while swinging hard

3. Having the ability to be extremely precise and accurate

4. Having the ability to put impart speed and spin on the ball with very little effort

5. Having the ability to adjust the stroke for various types of balls

I will focus on the fifth type of dexterity in table tennis.

Dexterity is the ability to adjust to various aspects of the ping pong ball – adjust to the speed of the ball, adjust to the placement of the ball, adjust to the depth of the ball, adjust to the height of the ball and adjust to the spin on the ball.  I will use the forehand loop as my example.

In order to develop more dexterity in your forehand loop, you must be able to adjust your swing based on the different speeds of the incoming balls.  Ask your table tennis training partner to block to your forehand and vary the speed of the block – sometimes slightly harder and sometimes slightly slower.  Keep your racket in front and backswing once you see the approaching ball.  If the ball is blocked quickly, then shorten your loop while still generating a lot of spin.  Always keep your weight leaning forward and contact the ball in front of your body.

In order to develop more dexterity in your forehand loop, you must be able to adjust your swing based on the placement of the incoming balls.  Ask your training partner to move the ball around in the forehand 50% of the ping pong table.  Watch your opponent’s racket and adjust your feet into position before swinging.  Once your feet are set, then take a swing.  If you are in good position, loop slightly harder with a longer swing.  If you are off-balance and forced to reach or lean for the ball, shorten your swing, focus on control, brush the ball with spin, then get in better position for the next loop.

In order to develop more dexterity in your forehand loop, you must be able to adjust your swing based on the depth of the incoming balls.  For this exercise, I would recommend starting very slowly.  Set up your Newgy Robo-Pong table tennis robot to throw the ball once every 3 seconds or have your training partner feed multiball.  If the ball is slow and lands near the net, move both feet forward and loop near the table.  If the ball is deep near the end line, then move back slightly and loop the deep ball.  When moving forward (for right-handed table tennis players), step with your right foot then the left foot.  When moving backward, step with the left foot then the right foot.  Both feet actually move simultaneously, however, the outside foot always initiates the movement.  When moving in-and-out, make sure to stay with your weight leaning forward.  Focus on moving your feet very fast while looping with control.

In order to develop more dexterity in your forehand loop, you must be able to adjust your swing based on the height of the incoming balls.  Ask your training partner to adjust his block sometimes higher and sometimes lower.  Keep your racket in front of your body and take your backswing once you see the height of the incoming ball.  For the forehand loop against topspin, try to start your swing directly behind the ball and loop forward with spin.  If the ball is higher, then start your racket higher.  If your racket is lower, then start your racket lower.

In order to develop more dexterity in your forehand loop, you must be able to adjust your swing based on the various spins of the incoming balls.  Ask your training partner to vary the spin on his block, sometimes he should block normal with slight topspin, sometimes he should spin over the ball with more topspin and sometimes he should chop-block.  If he adds topspin, the ball will jump up as it contacts your side of the table.  If he performs a chop-block, the ball with slow down as it contacts your side of the table.  Adjust your racket height and body position to the incoming ball.  This is the most challenging of all the exercises.  Don’t be discouraged if it takes several months to perfect this aspect of dexterity.

Every table tennis player should strive for dexterity.  I am convinced that dexterity should be trained.  In your training sessions, you should make it just as challenging as or more challenging than an actual game.  Be ready to adjust for various speeds, placements, depths, heights, and spins and you will be on your way to success!

Samson Dubina

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Changing Your Mindset in Table Tennis – Samson Dubina

Jena Newgarden
A topic seldom addressed in table tennis, but very important, is about changing your mindset in regards to your opponent’s strengths.

Many table tennis players fear their opponent’s strengths so much that it messes up all aspects of their game.  Instead of fearing the strength, try to use the strength against them.

Here are some examples:

  1. Your opponent’s serve is very short and very low.  Generally, you are able to loop the serve and start the point out with attacking.  However, this opponent’s serve cannot be looped.  Instead of getting frustrated, you should be able to push his short serve short and wait to loop the following ball.
  2. Your opponent’s push is extremely heavy and you can’t power-loop the first ball.  Instead of getting frustrated, you should use your legs, open your angle, and brush the ball for a slightly slower and spinnier loop.  After he blocks your opening loop, you can follow-up with a stronger loop.
  3. Your opponent’s flip is very fast.  Instead of getting frustrated with the speed, you should shorten your swing, make contact with the ball, and return it quickly to a good location.  He probably won’t be ready for you to return it and the quick return will probably force him to block.  After he blocks, then you can take over with a speed shot.
  4. Your opponent’s loop is extremely powerful.  Instead of getting frustrated with his “weapon”, you should focus on returning only one loop.  By getting low, keeping your table tennis racket high and in front of you, and controlling the block, you should be able to manage to return one loop.  Once your opponent realizes that you can return it, he might slow it down and go for better placement or he might attempt to speed it up and become more inconsistent.

Try your best to play your strengths against your opponent’s weaknesses in table tennis.  However, when they do use their strengths, don’t fear them – just return them with control!

Samson Dubina

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