Looping: History and Theory

Rowden Fullen (1970’s)

A drive or even a topspin drive becomes a loop when the spin content is intended to have more effect than the forward speed content. This concept of intention is useful when analysing many strokes in the game. Without the loop ‘intention’ players would proceed to strive after faster and flatter drives which at one time they indeed did. A fair proportion of players would still in fact be well advised to do just that and should not pursue the loop intention too far. (For example older, stiffer players, good flat-hit players, those who prefer thinner or less spinny rubbers and loop-happy juniors who have not yet mastered the basic skills.)

As well as intention one must remember purpose. Many players continue spinning long after they have achieved the goal of getting the ball up high enough to kill. Surely the idea when playing table tennis is to win the point – the loop should not necessarily be regarded as a point-winner, but rather as another weapon in your arsenal, another tool to create openings.

Intention is also a useful criterion for another reason. Five players starting off with the same intention will probably end up with five different types of performance. The effort to impart extra spin may well result in an important element of sidespin or an increased degree of forward speed or even equalizing the proportions so that we end up with merely a very strong and sure drive. If these accidental effects can be made intentional, then the loop practice has indeed been worthwhile.

We should also however bear in mind that for many players looping skills can only be acquired at such high cost in effort, time for practice and loss of other skills, that there are better ways of creating openings and winning points.


  1. Why is topspin needed at all in attack? Because it gives the ball a downward curving flight path while maintaining directional control.
  2. What is good about a downward curving flight path? It is much more certain that the ball will hit the table because its final approach is nearer to the vertical instead of almost horizontal as in the flat drive.
  3. The gyroscopic effect of the spin gives strong directional control, thus more and more power can be fed into the stroke without greatly reducing accuracy.
  4. It cannot be avoided that maximum power means loss of accuracy. The effort involved in producing the maximum is so involved that attention to accuracy suffers. Skilled or semi-skilled, every player in the world has his or her accuracy barrier.
  5. Due to the nature of the execution of the stroke in comparison with the drive (more lift) it is easy to use many more timing points and thus much more variation.
  6. Because human nature is careless, the coach tries at all times to raise the accuracy factor, by emphasizing smooth muscle movements to reduce effort and topspin control to reduce error as more power is fed in.
  7. A beginner’s drive may be taught as a slow roll with absence of effort. An intermediate level drive calls for definite forward effort through the ball and correspondingly more topspin to restore the degree of control. However an advanced drive needs crisp forward speed on each ball with no loss of accuracy even when fast footwork is required between each stroke.
  8. The next stage is the point-winning drive in which the effect is usually achieved by forward effort with topspin as an accessory. Other effective winners are produced by unpredictability, by irregular changes of direction. On the whole the more pronounced the directional change, the more careful the player must be with the power input.
  9. In tournaments and matches the player faces a host of variations which are even more immediately effective than his carefully coached, controlled drives — the flat hits, punch strokes, forcing blocks and sidespin drives. However under 4. each of these has its accuracy barrier – they are safe if used with good judgement but all have their limits.
  10. At this stage coaching becomes sensitive. In the three-horned dilemma, power, accuracy, variation, each limits the other. Who knows what resources the player has in him to raise his barriers and to increase his boundaries? Perhaps the player does, perhaps his trainer, perhaps another coach.
  11. In the search to raise the limits, a pioneer found that by applying maximum effort to the topspin department and letting the forward effort look after itself the effect was very profitable.
  12. How does this first generation loop respond to 4.? Maximum effort tends to less accuracy, but increased topspin tends to more accuracy. Since the effect is great the equation cannot be faulted! This means the loop has less directional accuracy and less length accuracy but more ‘hit the table’ accuracy (due to the violent down-curve).
  13. Many players trying to copy the great loop players did not produce a true topspin when applying maximum effort – the result became a strong topspin plus sidespin loop or an aggressive loop-drive. Once again control was lessened, but effect was increased — the second generation loop had arrived!
  14. The first stage loop scored mainly on its unfamiliarity as regards length and bounce (the coaches and players of the 60’s could see what was happening but no-one thought to investigate why - it was of course a perfect example of the Magnus effect in action), but had relatively little forward penetration. Could the maximum spin effect be linked with near maximum forward effect? It could — by really skilled players. Accurate control suffered once again but the penetration effect was increased and the third generation loop was born. An unpredictable battery of power loops, sidespin loops, dummy loops and short-bounce loops is now the common currency of top-class players worldwide.
  15. These third level loops by their domination need no longer be used only against the backspin ball — they can in skilled hands be used in response to any ball that comes over the net.
  16. The only criterion basically is that the player’s racket angle should correspond to the trajectory of the incoming ball.
  17. The drastic degree of effort and the fineness of touch needed in producing the good loops exact their own penalty — bad loops are just terrible and so many players persist in using them when they should be counting the lost points. Others get so carried away with looping that they cannot finish an easy point with a normal drive or smash.
  18. So how should you play matches against loop players? If you are fast enough you can keep them under such pressure that they have little time to play good spin, especially if you keep changing length and direction. Or alternatively you can go the other way and give them very little pace, with continuous light and angled attack mixed with very short balls. If they are not really top-class performers even let them loop — you will win on their mistakes.
  19. One of the most successful answers is the block, which can be executed in a variety of forms, topspin or forcing block, chop, stop or sidespin block, soft touch block. Do not neglect training to hit through the loop at an early timing point (especially in the women’s game) — this is a technique which can pay big dividends.
  20. Finally of course there are the various material combinations which often cause loop players problems. The long pimple defender who chops with such aggression and length that it’s next to impossible to loop two or three balls in succession. Or the skilful short pimple blocker who uses the looper’s own spin on the return ball.

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