I have written about how to perform a table tennis loop stroke elsewhere on the site (refer to my articles on the forehand loop and backhand loop for videos, photographs, and explanations), but what is the best way to to actually learn how to loop?
Let’s face it, anyone can know what to do in theory, but learning how to do it correctly in practice is another thing entirely. In fact, the loop is probably one of the hardest ping-pong strokes to learn – just look at the many players out there who never quite get it right!
Why is the Loop so Difficult to Learn?
The loop stroke is a tough shot for new players to master, since it depends on the player being able to brush the ball with a fast stroke.
Most new players start by playing strokes that have very solid contact with the ball, so the concept of intentionally trying to just skim the ball can be a difficult idea to adjust to. Not to mention that because you are trying to skim the ball, your target area for contacting the ball is reduced greatly. Add the fact that you are also trying to swing the racket very quickly, and this means that you are trying to hit a moving target of less than half inch while swinging fast and getting the angle of your bat correct. Pretty difficult really!
Learning to Loop for Beginners
Despite its difficulty, the loop stroke is the dominant stroke in modern table tennis, and for good reason – the pace and topspin it provides gives the best variety of attacking options. If you intend to progress beyond beginner status, you are going to need to master the loop.
So now I’m going to share one of the best ways to get started when you are trying to learn how to loop properly. Take a look at the accompanying video first, and then read on as I explain why this exercise is a great way to pick up the basics of looping. One important proviso – you need a ping-pong paddle that has rubbers with good grip, or else this exercise will be very difficult. To check the grip of your rubbers, hold a table tennis ball firmly in your fingers so that it can’t spin, and then drag it down the rubber. You should feel plenty of resistance – if the ball slides easily over the rubber you need to buy better rubbers!
Performing the Drill
This drill requires two players, one to feed the ball and one to practice his loop. As you can see from the video, the net has been propped up with a table tennis racket so that the feeder can roll the ball smoothly across the table towards the trainee. The trainee attempts to graze the ball so that the spin on the ball lifts it upwards and over the net.
The idea is to make the ball roll slowly, so that the ball would just drop off the endline if it was left alone. This forces the trainee to use correct technique to spin the ball over the net – the trainee must skim the ball or else he will hit the table with his bat. If the feeder rolls the ball too quickly, the ball will fly off the endline and the trainee can scoop underneath the ball to hit it upwards. If the ball is rolled slowly, scooping the ball with a full stroke is impossible.
The trainee should be focusing on just skimming the ball, contacting the ball at a point between the top of the ball and the part of the ball furthest from the endline (say around 2-3 o’clock if the ball was compared to a clock face). The trainee should try to swing his racket in a relatively straight line, allowing the grip of the rubber to pick up the ball when it is brushed. There is no need to swing in a curve, such as trying to swing up and then over the ball to impart topspin. This motion is unnecessary and will cause inconsistency in your stroke.
Why is This Drill So Good for Learning to Loop?
Learning to loop the ball can be a frustrating process for beginners. Many watch the pros loop the ball on a video, or maybe watch some advanced players at their local club, and then straight away try to copy the stroke. While this method can eventually work, it also tends to produce players who have less than ideal technique, since it is very easy to use incorrect motions while learning the stroke, and once this technique is grooved in it can be very hard to get rid of.
The drill explained above avoids this problem, since it is almost impossible for the beginner to get the ball over the net unless he uses a correct looping motion, provided the ball is rolled slowly. It also allows the beginner to get used to the fact that the grippy racket surface will spin the ball upwards and forwards, and reinforces the idea that he does not need to try to lift the ball with a solid contact of the ball.
In addition, since the ball is moving more slowly than during a rally, the beginner has more chance of making contact with the ball than if he and a partner were hitting the ball back and forward. And since the rally doesn’t stop if he makes a mistake, it allows the beginner to hit a lot more balls in the same amount of time than if he was trying to learn the loop by rallying.
What’s the Next Step in Learning to Loop?
Once you can consistently spin the ball up and over the net on the forehand and backhand sides (at least 9 times out of 10 on average), I would suggest having your partner bounce the ball on his side of the table, and then gently counterhit the ball to you, so that you can attempt to loop the ball. Have your partner catch your return and start again.
Once you can consistently perform that exercise, have your partner start the rally the same way, but block your loop back to you, and then you can try to loop two or more balls in a row. Once you can hit five or more loops in a row consistently you will be well on your way to mastering the loop!