Coach Samson Dubina US National Team Coach 4x USATT Coach of the Year

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Improve Your Looping

Learn what skills you need at what levels...

Many of my previous articles have been geared toward beating loopers.  In this article, I would like to give advice to you (the looper) and talk about improvements that you need to make in order to reach the next level in your looping game.
If you are a beginner looper (0-1400 rated) and looking to make good progress this year.  I recommend taking the following steps:
1. Get a coach!  Regardless if you take 30 min of skype lessons per month from me or have a club coach working with you five hours each day, it is critical that you have some guidance.  After playing for a  couple more years, it will be difficult to make major changes to your base strokes.
2. Focus on footwork!  Footwork is the foundation for every style at every level.  With good balance and good positioning, you will be able to maximize your consistency.
3. Do shadow strokes!  With footwork and strokes, you need to make the muscle memory permanent.  By doing 20 minutes of strokes and footwork in-front of a large mirror each day, it will speed up the learning process.
4. Drills, Drills, Drills!  Instead of heading to the club and playing ten matches each night.  Focus on doing about 80% drills and 20% matches.  With doing so many drills, you can focus more narrowly on specific strokes and movement so that you are correctly building your game.
5. Spin!  It is critical that you learn how to read spin and how to produce spin on your own shots.  Developing a forehand and backhand loop with likely be your primary focus during this stage.
If you are an intermediate looper (1400-2200 rated) and looking to make good progress this year, I recommend taking the following steps:
1. Evaluate your game!  You can either take your camcorder to the club and evaluate it yourself or you can ask someone else to give you a detailed evaluation.  Based on your findings, you need to decide if you need to make any major changes.  Some players at this stage need to make huge changes to their strokes, footwork, and tactics.  Other players need to make minor adjustments, need more match experience, need to be physically stronger, or need more practice time on the table.
2. Do Drills and Play Matches Both!  At this point, you should be drilling about drilling about 60% of the time and playing matches about 40% of the time.  Regardless of your competition level, you need to play matches.
3. Add variation!  While drilling, try to add some variation to your shots.  Consider having one or two main serves with several speed, spin, and depth variations for each serve.  You must also have variations on your pushes and loops as well.
4. Develop a well-rounded game!  As a beginner, you were likely focused on moving and looping.  At this intermediate stage, you should develop all the strokes.  It isn’t always possible to loop, so developing some defense is critical.  One of my young mini-cadets was stuck at 1600 for a very long time until I taught him how to block.  After a couple months of developing a solid offense and defense, he immediately broke 2000! 
5. Get your tournament game going!  You also need to be playing at least 1 tournament per month.  Because your basics have likely been strongly established in the beginner stage of your game, you need to now start focusing on results.  By playing tournaments regularly, you can test your game, test your mental strength, test your tactics against various styles.  You need to be able to perform well against other loopers, against choppers, blockers, pick-hitters, lobbers, lefties, righties, inverted, pips, anti, penholders, tall players, midgets, and wheelchair players. 
If you are an advanced player (over 2200 rated) and looking to make good progress this year, I recommend taking the following steps:
1. Set a long term goal!  If you are currently rated 2300 hope to reach 2350 sometime in your life, you are probably on the right track.  If you are hoping to win a gold medal in the next Olympics, then you need to make a very serious training schedule.  Focus on peaking for two major tournaments each year.  Leading up to those tournaments, find many other tournaments to help you prepare both mentally and physically for your peak tournaments.
2. Change your mind!  During the beginner and intermediate stages, you were likely focused on YOUR OWN strokes and YOUR OWN FOOTWORK and YOUR OWN SERVES.  Now at the advanced level, it is time to be 90% focused on your opponent.  Between every point, you should be asking yourself the question, “How can I mess up my opponent?  How can I trick him with spin or placement?  How can I be more consistent than him?”
3.  Consider your environment!  If you have absolutely no practice partners and no higher players to compete against regularly, then you have a problem.  There are several solutions.  The best ideas would be to either travel to a distant club for practice or to invite some elite players to your area.  Both of these are difficult; however, playing against higher players is the best way to move up a level.
4. Arm yourself!  At this stage, you really need to focus on developing some strong weapons that can hurt your opponent.  With a deceptive serve or a spinny loop or a powerful smash, you should be able to win some easy points each game and scare your opponent into making many errors.
5. Fight for it!  At the elite level, you will play against many other offensive players.  Try to fight for the first attack!  If you are a looper, then likely your loop is your strongest weapon.  By looking to loop the serves, by serving primarily short, and by playing some short balls short again, you can take the first attack…  putting you in control of the rally.
6.  Use your time wisely!  At your elite level, there are so many aspects to your game that you need to do regularly – drills, serving practice, practice matches, league matches, visualization, mental training, video analysis, and tournaments.  All of these aspects are important.  For your game specifically, try to determine which of these aspects are the most important and target those areas with more hours each week.