I liked to play table tennis since I was a kid grown in China. As many people like me, we played for fun, always wanted to improve the game (and win) but never had formal training. After many years, I picked up my paddle and was hooked ever since. The childhood joy flushed my memory, the dopamine just came full life.
I started to trying to improve my skills since then. These are the ways that I took.
1. Taking tips from fellow players.
I started with asking my fellow players for tips. It free and it is convenient and worked great initially. But soon I realized there are several fundamental issues with this route.
First, many of the fellow players are the same as us (without formal training), each people developed a couple of “secret weapon” with the years of playing. It worked for them but may not be right for me. And many times, their forms are wrong.
Second, it is hard to find a good player that genuinely invest their time to look at your play and give constructive advices. Most of the time, people come to the club and play, they just don’t have the time. If you are lucky to find such person, congratulations. Please say thank you from deep down in your heart.
Thirdly, the sort of mentor-mentee relationship works great when the mentor are significantly better than you. When you improved close to the level of the mentor, typically the relationship will end with conflict of interest. You know what I mean.
2. Seeking for online video and technical article
I found the internet a great resource for learning ANYTHING. Ping Pong is no different. Thousands of people post training, tournament video in Youtube everyday. If you understand Chinese (or not), you can check youku.com as well, there are many Chinese tutorial video which are great (for example the video featured 唐建军，王皓，马龙）. The only problem is that it is sometimes hard to find the video that address your current problem and sometimes not very systematic. BTW， I think it is a good idea to have a big mirror to correct your form when you watch them.
3. Reading Books
When you try to systematically understand in and outs of something, reading a book is still the best way. I found a couple of books that are very useful. For example, these books from Larry Hodges, you can find them in Amazon.
I also bought a couple of books in Chinse.
4. Find a good coach
I mean real coach, in person. Find a good coach that can give you immediate feedback and train you. Nothing can beat that. There is only one problem, it is relatively expensive. I found a good coach who charges $30/h private lesson or $15/h group class, which is affordable but still. I think 2-3 classes per week is a good way of making solid progress. But that translate to a couple of hundred dollar cost per month. If you can afford it and really want to improve your game, go for it.
5. Buy a Ping Pong Robot
I view this method as a complementary of training with coach. The advantage is that after one time investment, you can keep coming back and train the heck out of yourself without paying extra money.
A robot typically cost you $200-700. There are several brands in the market, iPong and Newgy are the two that I did research on. Finally I settled between the choice of Robo-Pong 2050 and 1050. 1050 cost $399 and 2050 cost $659. They are basically the same machine with digital control (there are 64 pre-stored drills, you can also store your drilling pattern from computer), except that 2050 has the catch net and ball recycling system. I really wanted the 2050 so that I don’t need to pickup balls all the time but the $260 difference makes me hesitate.
I was really excited when I found this combo from Amazon (Robo-Pong 1050 + Catch net + Pong-Pal + total 8 dozen balls + 3 paddles) with $500 (free shipping with Prime member as well). It got all the features that I wanted: digital control and catching net. I later found that Pong-Pal is pretty useful too, because I don’t need to bend down to pickup balls.
(Update Nov. 22, 2013, looks like they don’t offer the combo any longer. Just the Robo Pong options same as Newgy website. Maybe you can wait for next offering)
In my opinion, it is the most cost effective way to train for table tennis. With a robot, you can cut down the coach training hour or add on top of the coach training to make the time with coach more effective by taking some of the time consuming drilling offline. If you do the math, $500 is just 17 hours of private lesson. I can easily get my investment back within a couple of weeks playing.
I am pretty happy about my purchase so far and already feel the power of it.