5 years ago
I am often asked about the relevance of robots for training. It is something I have changed my mind about significantly over the past few years. Growing up in an environment where there was always someone to train with made me oblivious to the multitudes of players that are often stranded with lots of endeavour but no one to hit with. In today’s world, we often don’t have time to travel to a club and it can be hard to find a friend who has the same desire to improve as you do.
Table Tennis is an interactive sport and not having anyone to play with has lead to the increasing popularity of the robot. Table Tennis robots have come a long way from their crude beginnings when you would wait for the sporadic ball that it would spit out at you, sometimes directly at your head, sometimes landing in the region that you intended. Now the better robots can, with reasonable accuracy, place the ball not only in one position but 6 to 8 positions in sequence. You can also save close to 100 drills that you have used, more than enough for any budding trainer.
So why don’t we all go out and get one? Firstly they can be quite costly at around USD$2,000 for a top of the range model. However there are cheaper versions that will do a variety of functions from just being able to fire a ball out at a regular tempo to having some variability with placement and spin. The second limiting factor of training with a robot is that it doesn’t give you a realistic cue as to what type of ball you are getting. When you are hitting with a partner you are picking up cues to where the ball is coming as well as what type of shot they are doing. You do this from their backswing, movement to the ball, and their body position at impact. The robot on the other hand gives you nothing. Thirdly, you need to be mindful that with a robot you are constantly changing your tracking from one ball to another. You hit one ball and instead of watching where that ball goes you switch attention to the robot as it is going to deliver the next ball. It is important for some of your training to watch the ball after you hit it to gain feedback on how well you actually hit the shot.
So why should we train with a ping pong robot? As I mentioned earlier, if you don’t have a partner then hitting a ball is better than not. You can also get your strokes to a level where you can execute them with efficiency and fluency. By not worrying about your training partner it gives you the opportunity to focus solely on your own stroke. Knowing that if you miss 10 balls in row, your partner isn’t going to get upset at you. In fact the robot will give you nothing (except ball number 11). With the ball coming to the same position with the same speed and spin (from the better robots) you can then focus purely on things like your start and finish position, or how much tension you have in your arm, wrist, fingers, or toes. You can think about your feet position, movement, or whatever you want to work on. A robot is willing to train whenever you are ready, it won’t sledge you, heckle your bad shots, take up your valuable training time, or even need to be fed.
If you are going to take the plunge and buy a robot, I recommend you don’t go too fancy straight away. There are quite a few that end up like Walking machines or some of those other exercise machines tucked under the bed and never seen again. Do some research online and find something that won’t stretch the budget and looks like it will serve your needs. The features to think about:
So if you can’t find a regular training partner then a robot just might be what you need to start your game on it’s upward path.
Happy hunting and happy hitting.
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