Table tennis is one of those sports that reaches across cultural backgrounds and socio-economic status and appeals to people from all walks of life. It is one of those unique sports that doesn’t require a person to have an opponent to play against in order to improve his or her abilities, or to have fun. One need only to simply raise the other half of the table and hit against the wall that is created.
Of course, just as with any sport, table tennis is much more fun to play against someone. Though the playing surface is actually quite small compared to other sports, in major and fierce competition, players can find themselves running around, back and forth, quite often, chasing the ball down and attempting to seize the advantage in the game.
If you have never watched even five minutes of a serious, professional table tennis competition, then it is recommended that you do as you will see just how much skill can go into becoming a great champion.
For the rest of us, however, those of us who only want to learn to play table tennis as a hobby with family and friends, it is also one of those unique sports that doesn’t require a great deal of skill or talent to play. One simply only needs to be able to hold a small paddle and hit the ping pong ball back across the exceedingly short net separating the two sides.
Of course, on the serve, a person must first hit the ball onto their side of the table and then have it bounce on his or her opponent’s side in order to be a good and successful serve. Every other shot after the serve must only bounce on the opponent’s side of the table.
For most recreational play, that is the crux of playing table tennis. For those who are looking for just a little bit more, let’s take a deeper stroll into the world of table tennis.
Table Tennis, also known as ping-pong, is a sport in which two or four players hit a lightweight, hollow ball back and forth using table tennis rackets. The game takes place on a hard table divided by a net. Except for the initial serve, players must allow a ball played toward them only one bounce on their side of the table and must return it so that it bounces on the opposite side. Points are scored when a player fails to return the ball within the rules. Play is fast and demands quick reactions. A skilled player can impart several varieties of spin to the ball, altering its trajectory and limiting an opponent`s options to great advantage.
Table tennis is controlled by the worldwide organization International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), founded in 1926. ITTF currently includes 210 member associations. The table tennis official rules are specified in the ITFF handbook. Since 1988, table tennis has been an Olympic sport, with several event categories. In particular, from 1988 until 2004, these were: men`s singles, women`s singles, men`s doubles and women`s doubles. Since 2008 the doubles have been replaced by the team events.
Whether played for fun or competition, table tennis players need paddles, a table, balls and a net. Beginners are advised to buy quality equipment because it lasts longer and performs consistently. But a novice player should keep in mind his or her level of skills and playing style when buying equipment. Quality equipment is desired, but there’s no reason for a casual player to pay top dollar for gear that will be used just for playing for fun with friends.
The best table tennis equipment, and the widest selection, is available by mail order and online. Local sporting goods stores and mass retailers sell a limited collection of tennis table equipment, but the gear is typically of lesser quality. Ping pong enthusiasts are advised to check out Internet sites or ask veteran players about reputable dealers in table tennis equipment.
No special clothing is needed for playing ping pong. Players generally wear dark, solid colors. Do not wear running shoes or any shoes geared mainly for forward motions when playing table tennis. Wear shoes that allow rapid movement while easily controlling the ankles.
Orange is the most popular color for table tennis balls, although white is also used. The hue of the table and surroundings is what influences the choice of ball color. Most people find orange balls are the easiest to spot in most lighting conditions.
The quality of ping pong balls is denoted by the number of imprinted stars. Three stars mark the best quality balls, which are used for official table tennis competitions.
The quality of balls influences the cost. Expect to pay $1 for a decent tennis table ball, but balls bought in bulk are often cheaper.
Ping pong balls are hollow and weigh 2.7 grams with a diameter of 44 millimeters, according to international rules. The balls are made of celluloid filled with air.
Keep ping pong balls clean and store them inside a case. Players at all levels should be aware that table tennis balls are highly flammable and must be kept away from open flames and direct heat.
Ping pong tables are 9 feet long, 5 feet wide and 30 inches high. Or 2.74 meters long, 1.525 meters wide and 76 centimeters high. The tables are wooden with a smooth, low-friction coating. Tables are divided in half by a net that is 6 inches high, or 15.25 centimeters high. Green or blue tables are sanctioned by the International Table Tennis Federation.
When playing or practicing, keep roughly 8 feet of space cleared all around the ping pong table.
There’s a wide variety of ping pong tables on the market today. The best quality ping pong tables cost approximately $1,000. About $500 will buy a decent and durable ping pong table. Lower quality tables can be purchased at sporting goods stores and mass retailers for around $150.
Nets can be bought separately or as part of the ping pong table set. A tournament quality net can run as high as $100 if purchased separately.
Don’t store ping pong tables outside because condensation and moisture can mar the flat surface. And don’t pile items on top of ping pong tables. Table tennis paddles are made of laminated wood covered with rubber. The main body of the paddle is called the blade. The playing surface is called the rubber. Paddles are also referred to as racquets or bats.
The wooden portion of a paddle must comprise at least 85 percent natural wood. Cork, glass fiber, arylate, Kevlar, carbon fiber and aluminum fiber also are used in the manufacture of ping pong paddles. But the rubber cannot touch any part of the paddle that is non-wood. The paddle is not eligible for tournament play if the rubber touches non-wood surfaces.
Blades have ratings that describe their characteristics, such as speed. A paddle’s speed is determined by the combined characteristics of the blade and the rubber.
Fast blades are not recommended for beginning players. Slow blades allow for greater control and are recommended for defensive players. Medium blades allow good ball control and a decent topspin.
A scale of 1 to 10 is used to gauge the speed and spin of a rubber. A 10 rating is the fastest and also denotes the most spin.
Each side of the paddle is covered with a different surface to allow variations on spin and speed. Players perform different types of return by flipping over the paddle during games.
International rules call for one side of the paddle to be covered in black rubber and the other side to be covered with red rubber. This allows players to distinguish the different types of rubber used by a competitor. Players are permitted to examine their opponent’s paddle before a game. The rubber can be pimpled or inverted. Pimpled rubber is dotted with cylindrical bumps that make an uneven striking surface well suited for defensive players. Offensive players rarely use a pimpled rubber as their primary surface for play.
Inverted rubber is smooth and enables a wide variety of spins and attacking techniques. Beginners are advised to use inverted or smooth rubber as their primary surface for learning ping pong. Beginners should not use a rubber that has a lot of spin.
There’s no official restriction on face size or shape, but paddles are commonly about 6.5 inches long and 6 inches wide, or 16.5 centimeters long and 15 centimeters wide.
The cost of decent paddle is about $50. A paddle for intermediate or advanced play will cost from $100 to $200. Basic rubbers average about $25.
Blades should be handled with gentle care. Clean the rubber with a sponge moistened with water after a game. Store paddles in a plastic bag and inside a protective case.
Players can augment their table tennis gear with miscellaneous accessories like rubber cleaners and special shoes. But beginners are advised to make sure they are committed to staying with ping pong before spending money on such accessories.
Competitive table tennis players grip their rackets in a variety of ways. One is described as penhold, and the other shakehand.
The penhold grip is so-named because one grips the racket similarly to the way one holds a writing instrument. The most popular style, usually referred to as the Chinese penhold style, involves curling the middle, ring, and fourth finger on the back of the blade. Traditionally, penhold players use only one side of the racket to hit the ball during normal play, and the side which is in contact with the last three fingers is generally not used.
The shakehand grip is so-named because one grips the racket similarly to the way one performs a handshake. The grip is sometimes referred to as the "tennis grip" or the "Western grip," . Today, however, the shakehand grip is being encouraged over the penhold grip even in some East Asian table tennis establishments, due to its simplicity and versatility compared to the penhold grip.
Speed drive strokes differ to ones from other racket sports like tennis. The racket is primarily perpendicular to the direction of the stroke, and most of the energy applied to the ball results in speed rather than spin, creating a shot that does not arc much, but is fast enough that it can be difficult to return.
The loop drive is essentially the reverse of the speed drive. The racket is much more parallel to the direction of the stroke and grazes the ball, resulting in a large amount of topspin.
The counter drive is usually a counter attack against drives. You have to close the racket and stay close to the ball. The racket is held closed and near to the ball, which is hit with a short movement "off the bounce" (before reaching the highest point) so that the ball travels faster to the other side.
A player will typically execute a smash when his or her opponent has returned a ball that bounces too high and/or too close to the net. Smashing is essentially self-explanatory—large backswing and rapid acceleration imparting as much speed on the ball as possible.
The push (or slice in Asia) is usually used for keeping the point alive and creating offensive opportunities. A push resembles a tennis slice: the racket cuts underneath the ball, imparting backspin and causing the ball to float slowly to the other side of the table.
A chop or cut is the defensive, backspin counterpart to the offensive loop drive. A chop is essentially a bigger, heavier slice, taken well back from the table. The racket face points primarily horizontally, perhaps a little bit upward, and the direction of the stroke is straight down.
The block or short is a simple shot, barely worthy of being called a "stroke," but nonetheless can be devastating against an attacking opponent. A block is executed by simply putting the racket in front of the ball—the ball rebounds back toward the opponent.
The kill spin is a new shot that is played only when the ball bounces low just on the other side of the net. To play the shot, you must stand at the side of the table, open your bat angle, and bend your arm, then, you as lightly and as softly as possible just touch the ball over the net and bring your bat back slightly.
The defensive high ball or lob is possibly the visually most impressive shot in the sport of table tennis, and it is deceptive in its simplicity. To execute a High Ball, a defensive player first backs off the table 4–6 meters; then, the stroke itself consists of simply lifting the ball to an enormous height before it falls back to the opponent`s side of the table.
The drop shot is a high level stroke, used as another variation for close-to-table strokes. You have to position the racket close to the ball and just let the ball touch it (without any hand movement) in a way that the ball stays close to the net with almost no speed and spin and touches the other side of the table more than twice if the opponent doesn`t reach it.
The topspin is a spin shot that can be used as a powerful spike or just getting the ball on the other player`s side of the table. To do this shot you must slightly touch the top of the ball with the racket.
Digging in: Joining a League or Going Solo
Understanding the rules of any game is one of the most important first steps to having fun. Without rules, problems will inevitably arise from one player not being pleased with something that has transpired, or giving an unfair advantage to another person.
The basic rules in table tennis are as follows:
The two players decide on who serves first. This can be done with a coin toss, playing for the first serve, or having one playing hide the ball in his or her hand under the table and having his or her opponent guess which hand it is in.
The player serving must toss the ball at least six inches in the air and then strike it before it hits the table or the ground. The serve must hit the server’s side of the table first, and then the opponent’s side. All other shots can only hit the opponent’s side of the table.
Serves are alternated every two serves, regardless of who wins the point. The first player to reach 11 points winning by 2 wins the game.
Now, the decision about whether to play for fun and try to recruit some friends and family to play on a regular or semi-regular basis, or to seek out a club to join will depend largely on what you want to get out of playing table tennis. Some people simply love the act of competing and will place themselves in the middle of competition whenever possible. Other people will prefer to keep competition out of the mix and would rather have fun with friends and family.
Within most communities there are table tennis groups that offer a wide range of skill levels to match up with, however. There will be the seasoned professionals (okay, not quite professional, but those who take their sport very seriously) who will prefer to be matched up against other players who can keep up with them and give them a good game. There will also be beginners who are just starting out learning the sport. In between, there will be all other levels of players as well.
Most people don’t realize that there are such groups as table tennis groups, but this is largely due to the fact that it isn’t considered a very popular sport when compared to other activities, such as baseball, football, soccer, and more.
If, for some reason, you are unable to find a group a people with whom to play table tennis in your community, then contact your local recreation department and see if you might be able to begin one at their facility. Then you can post an advertisement in the newspaper or online looking for like-minded table tennis aficionados.
Learning To Play
Beginners should find a coach to help them learn table tennis. A ping pong coach can be found at a tennis table club. Or novice players can find a practice partner by recruiting an acquaintance that is skilled at the game. Beginners should initially focus on developing their skills and honing their game during frequent practice sessions with a coach or practice partner.
The Internet is a good source for locating table tennis facilities and clubs. But there are other spots that can be checked out for finding playing facilities. These include fraternal clubs like the Elks, community colleges and high schools, recreation centers, public parks, gyms and sports centers, bars and pool halls, hotels, and churches. Also contact chambers of commerce to find playing sites for table tennis, or refer to municipal phone directories.
The rapid-fire movements needed for table tennis require players to warm up before playing a game. Players often loosen their muscles prior to games by jogging, jumping rope or stretching.
Tips and Tricks
Holding the racket
How you hold the racket will determine the kinds of spin that you can put on the ball while playing. Some players prefer the handshake grip while others like the idea of the pen grip, each for a different reason.
How you hold the racket will allow you to spin the ball a little bit differently. Developing spin is an integral aspect in winning table tennis, especially against more skilled opponents.
There are two basic types of spin: topspin and backspin. Each will produce a different effect when the ball sails through the air, curving it in one direction or another, or having it snap down on the opponent’s side of the table quicker (topspin). The spin will also determine how high or how fast the ball will bounce once it hits the table.
You can also develop a side spin that will cause the ball to move laterally in the air. The table tennis ball is light and that means it will react more severely to extreme spin, so the harder you spin the ball, the more it will move and the more it will react when it bounces off of the table.
Spinning the ball takes time and practice to master. Since the table is relatively small and the speed of the racket needs to be faster than one would normally hit the ball in order to generate effective spin, then it’s important to expect that there will be many shots that go wayward as you get used to spinning it.
Positioning around the table
When you’re playing a game against novices, most people tend to stand relatively close to the table, yet when you play against more accomplished and skilled players, you should stand back a couple of feet as the ball will be coming at you much faster, and with more spin. Standing away from the table will also allow you to gain a full swing and spin the ball much more effectively, giving you a little extra room for error.
You will find, however, that with less experienced players, you will be forced to stay close to the table as many of their shots will fall short and won’t have the pace to reach even the end of the table, let alone two feet beyond it.
Some of the world’s best players stand back several feet and create enormous amounts of spin.
Putting Together Your Own Tournament
When you begin to play table tennis, or you rediscover your love of this exciting and fun game, then the more you talk about with your friends and peers, the more you will realize how many people share the same interest as you in table tennis.
In time you will discover that your friends, coworkers, and people whom you talk to at your local tavern, are all interested in playing table tennis. Many of them will opine about not having their own table or wishing that they could come over to your house and show you just how good they are at playing table tennis.
There is an excellent opportunity to put them all to the proverbial test. That’s right. After all, people love competition, from the young kid down the street to the retired Army Colonel, they all like to compete, even if the ultimate prize is just fun.
But you can do more than bring them some recreation and excitement; you could create a table tennis tournament with something at stake. Something, for example, like money or a trip to the movies for two, or even dinner at a nice restaurant.
All you need to do is have some imagination and creativity. And get people to buy into the tournament. If they want to play, charge them ten dollars, or twenty. Make sure you don’t pocket the money yourself, or you’ll have people not returning for a second tournament. Put the money toward equipment, food, and prizes.
You can set this tournament to be played over the course of several weeks, or –if you have enough tables- over one weekend. A table tennis tournament that you put together can be a great time had by all.
Frequently Asked Questions
What kind of racket should I get?
There are a couple of different types of rackets to choose from when it comes to table tennis. The most common is the soft, smooth foam covering and the other kind is a harder foam covering with dimples on it. Each will produce basically the same effect, but for beginners, the smooth foam one is more forgiving.
The best thing to do is go to a store that sells table tennis rackets and try a couple of them out. For the most part, the weight and feel will be the same, so it will all depend on what you find most comfortable for you.
I don’t have a lot of room in my home. Can I still get a table?
Most modern home recreation tables can fold up and be stored in minimal space. There are also multi-game tables that can be used for many different purposes, such as pool and foosball. There are even table for table tennis that can be used as a dining room or kitchen table if turned upside down.
In this day and age of modern technology, there are few things that are not possible because of space issues. If you want to play table tennis but are worried about space, simply do a quick search of table tennis tables on the Internet and you will be able to find a number of options to suit your needs and space.
I have been playing recreationally for years, what does it take to play competitively?
If by ‘competitively’ you mean in tournaments, it doesn’t take much at all. It depends on the type of tournament that you’re interested in in the first place. If you’re looking for officially sanctioned tournaments, you will likely need to join a league and obtain a membership. From there, you will compete and earn points and ranking through each victory that you have.
If you are looking for something a little less formal, then you can likely find a number of groups in the area that gather and play tournament style table tennis for fun. They are known to put together simple tournaments and offer some basic prizes.
I haven’t played since I was a kid and I was wondering if I could still play.
Table tennis is not an exclusive sport to children. In fact, many adults from around the world play competitively everyday. Some even make a living off of their winnings from table tennis tournaments.
My racket is old and the rubber surface is worn out: can I still use it?
Sure. But why would you want to? New table tennis rackets are not that expensive and will make playing the game easier as it will allow you to spin the ball more effectively and consistently. A new racket will go a long way toward bringing you more fun and excitement in playing table tennis.
While the Chinese seem to dominate the sport from a professional standpoint, that doesn’t mean that us mere mortals can’t enjoy this fun and exciting sporting activity with friends and family, or even in a more competitive environment ourselves.
Of course, the odds that you are going to become a master of the sport and take over the world rankings is not likely, but that shouldn’t get you down. Table tennis offers us all the opportunity to get a little exercise, have some fun, and improve a little bit more each time we pick up a racket.
That makes it a winner in most books and ultimately, winning isn’t the only thing to be concerned about; but it’s a nice thing, too.