www.tomveatch.com / Table Tennis / Play with a ping pong robot

Ping pong robots look like a lot of fun. But they're overrated, I think.

Why would you want to?

For fun and for practice.

Fun. Table tennis robots are just a lot of fun. You can hit the ball hard if you want; it doesn't care, it shoots you out another one, until the bucket is empty. You can be totally uncoordinated, and it doesn't matter. The robot just keeps shooting the balls out, at the same place if you want it to, and eventually you'll figure out where to put your paddle and start hitting them back. Seven-year-old kids have a great time with it. 80-year-old grandparents love it. I love it, too.

Practice. Lots of things are hard to learn in table tennis. Some of them are especially difficult with human partners. Hitting an underspin ball with a topspin return, for example, is something that Seattle players don't have a lot of opportunity to practice. If you ask for an underspin ball, and then hit it back with topspin, then a human practice partner will normally return your topspin with another topspin, so you can't do another one.

Actually, choppers can give you another underspin ball, with some degree of consistency. Unfortunately, there are hardly any real choppers in the Seattle area. And Petri Heinonen or Victor Wu might not be available to spend a half hour chopping your topspin loops back to you, so that you can learn how to do it. Instead, you can use a robot to practice. Set it up to give you what you want, practice it until you've learned something, and then switch to something else.

It's a good idea to come with a list of things you want to practice. You can do a bucket of balls with one, then reset the machine for another drill, and do another bucket on that one.

Why not?:

Warning: It's important to be careful about overdoing it. If you keep doing the same motion over and over, you can eventually hurt yourself. It's easy to not notice how certain muscles are working too hard. A half hour is already too much time to work on a single stroke. Switch from forehand to backhand, or from top-spin to underspin, and work on a variety of strokes. Then you won't hurt yourself.

My actual advice

Robots are ultra consistent, and if you have a particular stroke you're trying to groove, they can be very helpful, for a little while. On the other hand, if you have a choice of a person versus a robot, you'll learn a lot more from the varied input you get by playing an actual person. Most of the time, robots help you repeat your bad habits. Instead, get down to the club and play with people. Even if you are better than they are, you can make a footwork and consistency drill out of it, and practicing with a human being just helps you learn more. Realistic variation is unavailable from robots, and realistic variation is how you actually learn to actually handle what actually happens.

Save the robot for after you had a coaching session and you have a new stroke form you're trying to learn, and use it then to groove your new improved form.

But I tell my students, just do it in the mirror, until it looks right. If it looks right, it's right. Then close your eyes and do it, and learn the feeling. Open your eyes and make sure it still looks right. Then repeat it 300 times. Then you may have grooved it into your systems, enough to do it in practice or a game. Personally, I think air pong with a mirror is probably better than robot pingpong. But any human partner is best of all.


Copyright © 2003-2017 Thomas C. Veatch All rights reserved.
Modified: March 21, 2017.