The #1 Question in Table Tennis

Jena Newgarden
Throughout many years of table tennis coaching, the #1 question that players ask me is, “What is the correct angle of my table tennis racket when looping?”

Having the correct racket angle for each particular stroke in table tennis is important.  However, there are many factors that need to be calculated within a split second to adjust your racket angle to properly loop the ball, such as:

1 – The height of the incoming ball

2 – The depth of the incoming ball

3 – The speed of the incoming ball

4 – The type and amount of spin on the incoming ball

5 – The trajectory of the incoming ball

6 – Your body position

7 – Your racket height

8 – Your backswing

9 – The amount of tension in your arm

10 – Your amount of racket speed

11 – The desired height of your loop

12 – The desired depth of your loop

13 – The desired speed of your loop

14 – The desired amount and type of spin on your loop

15 – The desired trajectory of your loop

16 – The type of rubber that you are using on your table tennis racket (inverted, pips, etc.)

17 – The amount of grip on the rubber you are using (slick, somewhat grippy or tacky)

To make 17 calculations and adjust your racket angle within a matter of a ½ second takes a lot of practice.  No wonder the top table tennis players practice 6-8 hour per day for years to reach a high level.  Table tennis is way too fast to make 17 conscious calculations prior to each hit.  The mind needs to be properly programmed to look for those signs and make fast adjustments.  Getting a good table tennis coach and learning properly from the start will be the biggest benefit to developing the foundation for your game.

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Modern Loopers in Table Tennis

Jena Newgarden
(Definition of loop in table tennis: a stroke that has extremely heavy topspin, which causes the ping pong ball to dip rapidly towards the playing surface of the table.)

Modern table tennis is predominantly characterized by looping – looping backspin balls, looping topspin balls, looping serves, looping over-the-table, looping blocks, and re-looping loops.  The Chinese national table tennis team did a study on various loops.  The study showed that the spiniest loop against backspin tested had about 120 rotations per second.  The spiniest loop against topspin tested had about 130 rotations per second.

These modern statistics are drastically different from what was seen several decades ago in table tennis.  What you saw several decades ago were excellent loops against backspin.  However, many table tennis players used blocking, counterdriving, and smashing when it came to the topspin ball.  I feel that this is still the case in the US.  Many club table tennis players understand the importance of having excellent spin when looping backspin but then resort to blocking, counterdriving, and smashing when it comes to topspin because they don’t understand the importance of spinning the topspin ball.

So what is the lesson that you need to learn?  You need to follow the example of the modern players and loop the backspin then follow-up with a strong loops against the topspin ball.  Here are several reasons why you should learn to produce as much spin as possible when looping topspin:

#1. More spin will give you more control…  control not only to clear the net, but also the spin will bring the ball down making your loop more consistent.

#2. More spin will make it harder for your opponent.  By maximizing your spin, your opponent will need to block more defensively and can’t be so aggressive with his placement.

#3. More spin will allow you to hit harder from a lower position.  Smashing the ball is quite easy if it bounces about 12-18” high.  However, modern table tennis players are able to return your loop quite low.  In order to maximize your control on your power shot, add spin to bring the ball down.

#4. More spin will allow you to place the ball more accurately, making it much easier to use the sharp angles.

#5. More spin will give you more flexibility in distance from the table.  With excellent spin, you can loop from near the table, off the table, or at the court barriers with great consistency.

#6. More spin will allow you to overcome your opponent’s ball.  If you are often bothered with “weird” blocks, it is likely due to timing and lack of spin.  If you add more spin to your ball, then your opponent’s spin will affect you less.

#7. More spin will allow you to vary your shots.  If you have 130 rotations per second on your loop, then your light spin or no spin or sidespin loop will be very easy to execute giving more depth to your game.

Final thought:  There are 2 aspects to playing well in table tennis – you being consistent and you making your opponent inconsistent.  As you can see in the seven points that I have listed above, giving more spin on your loop against topspin will allow you to be extremely consistent against any ball from any distance while making it tough on your opponent to handle your speed, spin and placement variations.  So how do you produce more spin? Check back soon for a future article on that topic.

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Table Tennis Coaches – Avoid This Word

Jena Newgarden
As a table tennis coach, I think it is very important to praise and encourage your students when they have played well. If a coach compliments their student and then follows it with the word “but”, it basically discounts the positive that was just said and can be discouraging to the student.

For example:

My student asks, “So Coach Samson, what do you think about my performance at the last table tennis tournament?”

I reply, “Your looping was very powerful, your footwork was fast, you had good strategy, BUT you missed every smash.”

By using the word “but” it puts the focus on what my table tennis student didn’t do.  In light of all the good things that I said, he will remember that I was focusing on his one weak point.  Instead, here is how I should have worded that sentence.

I reply, “Your looping was very powerful, your footwork was fast, you had a good strategy, AND we need to continue to work on perfecting your smash.”

By using the word “AND” I have not degraded him but instead I show that we have areas to continue improving while building his confidence.

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The Right Balance in Table Tennis – Samson Dubina

Jena Newgarden

Most club table tennis players can’t train 40 hours per week due to work, school, family commitments and just life in general.  However, most players can dedicate around 10 hours per week to improve their table tennis skills.  For my training students, I ask them to work hard to produce the best possible 10 hours that they can do.  I ask them to do 4 hours of table tennis matches, 1 hour of serving practice, 1 hour of physical training, 1 hour of video analysis, and 3 hours of training with the Newgy Robo-Pong 2050 table tennis robot.

Playing matches against various playing styles is an important part of a weekly training program because it “tests” your table tennis skills.  You should be able to properly regulate WHAT to practice based on how you perform in practice matches.

Serving practice is one of the fastest ways to improve.  If you can score 2-3 more points each game, that is a major improvement.  Even if you can’t win the point outright, a good serve should set you up for the next ball.  When serving, focus on keeping the ball low, with good spin variation, and good placement variation.  Try to develop a very similar motion while giving slight changes in the spin – heavy sidespin, sidespin backspin, no spin, and sidespin topspin.

Physical training is a vital aspect that every table tennis player needs to work on to move to the elite level.  At your current level, physical training might not seem very important.  However, at the elite level, it is critical.  I would recommend focusing mainly on speed and flexibility exercises for the legs and core.  Top table tennis players say that 70-80% of their looping power comes from the legs and core (not the arm).

Video analysis is the most neglected aspect of table tennis training in the US.  Without visualization of your strengths and weaknesses on a weekly basis, you are probably training incorrectly.  Record at least one session per week and take some time to watch it slowly while taking notes.  Ask a friend or coach to watch it with your and take a somewhat critical approach to analyzing your game.

Table tennis robot training has helped me tremendously and I’m sure that it will help you too.  Instead of thinking about the score, you can focus on the areas of your game that really need to improve.  You can focus on making changes to your footwork, short game, blocking, looping, smashing, chopping, and serve return.  Start the drill very slowly with +50% wait adjust so that you can perform them correctly.  As you become more consistent at that speed, slowly decrease the time between balls by 10%.

Here is a sample weekly table tennis training program from one of my students:

Monday:         Robot (1 hour) and Physical Training (30 min)

Tuesday:        Club (2 hours)

Wednesday:  Rest

Thursday:       Club (2 hours) and video analysis (1 hour)

Friday:             Robot (1 hour) and serving (1 hour)

Saturday:        Robot (1 hour) and Physical Training (30 min)

Sunday:           Rest

Samson Dubina

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