How to loop

Although never continuous, I spend more than a decade playing table tennis. Until recently, I never cared too much about winning, and I always thought that’s the reason I always lose matches to the people I didn’t think was very good.

Then, last year I started to want to win and really started to watch everything single Youtube video I can find about Table Tennis. I keep hearing coaches talk about that I need to have sudden accelerations when hitting the ball to generate topspin. I always tried that first and the ball always fly too far away from the table. I spend about 6 month doing that, but the ball alway hit the edges of my paddle.

So I changed back to a more vertical paddle angle, just to reduced the number of times I miss the ball. Then one day, out the blue, started to hit the ball using bottom side of my paddle. The shot sounded more muffed, instead of my regular high pitch sound hits.

During the same time, I also started to use my waist and leg during my swing. It started with my leg pushing the ground, then my waist moves, and my arm moved last. I didn’t have to move my arm so actively, it as though my waist directed the who motion and dragged my arm.

Then I started to have larger range of motion on my wrist when I just about to hit the ball to create spin. That worked just a little better, but it’s hard to life my wrist hitting forehand. I started to use my forearm to mimic the same motion of my wrist, this seemed to be easier on my arm. One day during a match with a much bigger guy at the club, I actively try to have sudden movement in my forearm, just like when I try to serve underspins. Miraculously, I was able to create the slow, upward kind of loop consistently.

This worked, because as soon as the ball the other side of the table, it started to accelerate forward much faster than a normal hit. In another words, the exist angle is greater than the entry angle. This creates a lot of unpredictability for the opponent. Although slower than just a hard hit, this type of ball is hard to return.

Then I watched another Youtube video, that was trying to mimic how Ma Long does loops. After each swing, instead of swing his arm back to the original position, he let the arm drop naturally, swing the shoulder back, and lift arm slightly to get back to original position. This technique made the transition faster because it decreased the radius of the arm swing and therefore, faster. It also let the arm and shoulder rest momentarily between hits, ensure the athlete don’t get too tired after hitting many loops.

Learned how to loop also made my serves better, because using this sudden movement also increased the spin of my serves, as evidenced by the many aces I have playing at the club and the gym. Going ahead, I plan to improve the forward speed of my loop, and making it spinny and faster, and creating the ultimate weapon for winners.

My journey in Table Tennis

I first learned how to play table tennis when I was 6. My mom used to play when she was in elementary school, then in college. It was hard to find a table to play in China when I was little. We often sneak into my father’s work place, a table that was employee only. I started with pips and shake-hand. That was the most popular style in China at the time. And it was how my mom played, so that’s what she can teach me.

I started learning the Chinese style, which is hit forward rather than loop. Besides, my mom doesn’t know how to loop. Within a few years, I was pretty good at hitting forehand. Of course, my backhand was just pushing. Flip and hit is much harder, and shake-hand style for penhold was not invented yet. My main weapon was forehand, but always had trouble to defend loops. At that time, I was more interested in other things, like pool. I would often skip table tennis and go play pool in the next room.

After I can to United States and started college, I found a group students and alumni who are passionate about table tennis. I started going to practice regularly, twice a week. I started going to collegiate and USATT tournaments, but I lost more than I won at Team B level, and have a rating of lower than 1200. I never got much better than when I was a 13 year old kid in China. It’s mostly because I just want to exercise and socialize with friends. I never cared about winning, or wanted to win. I just got more fluent in what I can do. After I graduated college and started studying for my PhD, school consumed my life, and I had no time to play table tennis. Even when I started my postdoc in New York City, I never got to play regularly because the clubs in upper west side of New York are not friendly.

After I found a real job in Hartford, CT, I found this great club in Hartford with a lot of great players. The people there made my feel like I was back in college again. They are eager to help me improve my techniques and not afraid of playing with someone who is worse in skill. I bought a better paddle, albeit not customized for my style. I started care about winning and wanted to win. I improved serve and changed strokes to at least reduced missed hits.

Then I really started to get better when I started to look for Youtube videos of Chinese coaches online. There are some great videos where coaches talked to amateur players and help them improve their game. This helps a lot because the amateurs are just as bad as I am. When I used to watch world class player online, I never learned the process of growth and just try to mimic the really high level stuff. I went through all the videos and I can find and started with the really basic things like swing without ball. The mostly important things I learned was swing forward and how to use wrist and waist.

While working at my new job, I was fortunate enough to be able to play table tennis at work for a break. Have constant access to a table, albeit thin and crappy, helped a lot because I can practice serves and simple forehand stroke whenever I wanted. I played with coworkers during break for doubles. None of them are better than me, but while I teach them about table tennis, I realize what my strokes looks like, and helped me discovered my own problems.

Just a few days ago, I figured out how to do forehand loops. I was playing with a big guy at the club and figured out how to use wrist to loop and not miss the ball too often. I was so excited. I learned it without a professional coach, and after 28 years since I first played it. It was the relentless pursuit that help me get to this point. And I’m sure I will keep improve if I keep trying.