Written by Harrie Austin-Jones.
So, looping. You can do that, right? No? You're not alone. I have watched a lot of lower level table tennis and most are not setting the world alight with their looping. Even those who can turn a backspin ball into a topspin one aren't doing it a lot of the time.
I thought I could loop. I believed I had learnt that months ago. I hadn't, or at least, not well. I imagine only about 40% of my loops went on the table. It was so inconsistent that it became virtually impossible to play in a game.
Time for some specific training
During our most recent coaching session, Ben and I decided to put looping to bed once and for all. Except... it's not quite that easy.
You see, every time I went to loop the ball, I went lopsided. So, to use Ben's goalkeeper analogy, I would be a goalkeeper who had inexplicably leaned away from the ball he was trying to catch. I was, in effect, a bent triangle.
It doesn't really work for power generation. It doesn't really work full stop. The problem of the lopsided triangle is that it creates two issues...
- Poor balance - I am constantly off balance. It means that even if I happen to get the ball on the table I am falling away from it.
- Lack of power and spin - The inefficiencies in my technique cause me to play a shot that is weak and "soft" - as Ben likes to say.
On top of all that, I cannot accurately reproduce the shot time and time again. Let's have a look at my reenactment of the "lopsided triangle" loop below:
How did we try and solve it?
It was a three-pronged attack from Ben:
- Single focus coaching - Focus on one thing at a time to gradually attain the desired result.
- Video analysis - Self-evaluating what I was doing and noting where I was/wasn't improving.
- Away from the table technique work - Involving replicating the movement without the ball.
My thoughts are that it is not always the process that makes the difference rather the gradual self-awareness that builds up over time. A week later I had improved but I really thought I would have improved more. It was still pretty messy in places but I had gone up from a 40% on the table ratio to a 60%. I guess in a week that is all you can hope for but as an athlete you always hope you will turn up one day and smash it.
Anyway the one week later video is below:
As I'm sure you can see; the movement of the twist onto my back leg is poor, my 'whip' on my forearm is poor, and my ability to get into the position is rather pathetic. It isn't perfect but it is better. What is good is it is less rushed, I am not swinging my bat arm back as far and I am attempting to drop down.
I approached this week in much the same way - I got Ben to give me one thing at a time in the hope that I would see clear improvements.
I have to say, when I took it away from Ben's coaching and into 'real' situations, it all fell apart. Suddenly, you go from concentrating on one thing to concentrating on everything that's required to perform a loop. Likewise, all of the other factors that make up a game make it so tricky to actually replicate in game. I can feel my body wants to do the right thing but it will take a long time to perfect it.
My top tips
The advice I have for anyone learning to loop, or learning anything else for that matter, is have patience. It takes ages to learn anything. Learning the perfect technique is sometimes accepting that it all gets worse before it gets better and, sadly, you may end up behind others in the short-term but I guarantee it will be worth it.
My second piece of advice is that coaching isn't always a case of the coach telling you to do X and you immediately do it. Often, it can be a case that the coach needs to tell you the same thing in a different way. We all understand things differently or lead with different body parts to perform the same action. It takes great communication and a ton of trust between coach and athlete to do this. The coach has to know you are listening and trying, and you have to know the coach is willing to alter their approach.
In summary, two weeks in and many more to go to change this technique. We approach every technique or new shot in the same way - breaking it all down and slowly building it up. We use everything we can to build solid foundations and we repeat things over and over again. It doesn't show in games for months but it does show eventually.
For me, it has taken one week to improve my forehand loop technique. It will likely take another 40 before I am looping like Ben. Let's hope I manage it!