How to run a table tennis tournament at work

How to Host a Ping Pong Tournament at Work

Featured Image by master1305

Playing ping pong is the perfect way to unwind from the stresses of our daily lives. It doesn’t cease to amaze me how every time I grab my racket, my attention shifts completely towards striking the ball and nothing else. It’s almost therapeutic.

Ping pong at work boosts the morale of workers, motivates them, and makes them more productive. Relaxing the mind and playing ping pong in between working hours helps people perform their best, so having a table in the office is a great idea.

However, for those who want more than just relaxation, there are ways to set up competitive tournaments to spice things up. 

From having played and organized lots of tournaments, we’re going to tell you the best way to structure your own tournament at work, depending on how many players sign up and how much time you have available.

First of all, we’re going to talk about the equipment you need to set it up.

Equipment needed

To host a tournament at work, you’ll need at least one table with a net and sufficient space around it, at least two rackets (or four, if you want to play doubles) and many balls, we recommend having at least 5 in case they break or get lost. 

In short, you need little more than a table in the office. If you are going to play recreationally, then you can simply buy ping pong rackets and balls at a sports store and take them to work.

By dividing the costs among several players, a pair of recreational paddles and 5 or 6 balls cost very little money.

If you want to take the sport a little more seriously and buy your first serious racket, we really liked the Killerspin JET 400, which is ideal for beginners to intermediate players who want to perform spin shots and fast attacks.

If lots of people sign up and you are low on time, it is better to play doubles. With doubles, you will just need a bit of extra space around the table.

Competitors Needed

To host your tournament, you will need:

  • Straight Knockout (Singles): At least 4 players.
  • Group Stage System (Singles): At least 6 players.
  • Straight Knockout (Doubles): At least 8 players.
  • Group Stage System (Doubles): At least 12 players.

In the straight knockout system you need 4 players to play the semifinals, and in the groups system you need 6 players to form at least 2 groups of 3 players each.

Tournament Structure

We are going to present you with 2 ways to organize your table tennis tournament at the office, the straight knockout format and the groups, then knockout format.

Number of games per match

Another factor that is left to the discretion of the organizer, apart from the structure of the tournament, is the number of games to be played per match.

According to the rules of table tennis, you can play as many games as you want per match, as long as it is an uneven number (usually 1, 3, 5 or 7 games per match).

We recommend that you play 1 or 3 games, depending on the amount of time you have. Each game lasts for around 5-6 minutes to play up to 11 points. When you add on changeover time and warm-up time, this often adds an extra 5 minutes to each match.

If there are only 4 players and you have 1 hour to play, you may have enough time to play 5 games if you play using the straight knockout format.

The current table tennis scoring rules stipulate that you have to play games to 11 points, with service changes every 2 points. When the score reaches 10-10, each player starts serving once per turn.

The problem that arises with these scoring rules is that playing 1 set to 11 can finish very quickly, but playing to the best of 3 sets makes the tournament very long.

When I play casual tournaments with friends, we play one game matches, but that game is 21 points long with service changes every 5 points. We play with the same scoring rules used in the professional circuit until the year 2000.

For me, playing 1 game of 21 points per match is the perfect balance. It does not make the tournament drag on and the games are long enough to enjoy them once it is your turn to play.

The number of games to be played depends on the time you have and the number of players.

If there are too many players and you do not have much time, we recommend that you play in doubles format. It’s super fun and cuts the number of matches to be played in half, since now each match will be played by 4 people instead of 2.

A picture of the Japanese Mixed Doubles Superstars
Mixed Doubles Superstars – Photo: Daily Sabah

If you’re trying to work out how long your tournament will take, use this handy rule of thumb:

Match TypeAverage Length
1 game to 11 points5 Minutes
3 games to 11 points15 Minutes
1 game to 21 points10 Minutes

To approximate the time your tournament will take, divide the number of games to be played by the time in minutes you have. This way you can decide how many games to play per match.

Straight Knockout Tournament

This is the simplest way to organize a tournament, and also the fastest.

If the number of players is high and they want to play singles, we recommend that they play straight knockout to save time.

You simply have to gather all the players who want to participate and put together the tournament bracket.

After this, you have to draw their names to place them in the bracket. If the number of players is not a power of two (4, 8, 16, 32, 64), byes will have to be awarded.

What is a Bye?

Sometimes, you will have empty spots in your tournament bracket where you don’t have enough players. 

In this scenario, you fill up the bracket so every match has at least one player. From there, you fill in as many opponents as possible. Anyone left without an opponent gets a ‘bye’ into the next round of the tournament.

The whole process of setting up the bracket can be done automatically from CommentPicker.com. We recommend using it to avoid the hassle of organizing everything yourself.

Setting up the draw manually is easy when the number of players is a power of 2, but it gets tricky when it’s not. The system automatically grants byes and seeds players randomly, which is why we recommend it for all types of tournaments.

How to Structure a Straight Knockout Tournament Automatically

Next we are going to exemplify the creation of a 7-player straight knockout tournament automatically using the tournament bracket generator from CommentPicker.

The first step is to upload the names of the players in the text box on the right. The names must be added in new lines or separated by commas so that the system can differentiate them.

A graphic of the Tournament Bracket Generator Settings

After that, click on “create tournament bracket”. You will see your draw at the bottom left of your screen.

A graphic of a Tournament Brackets

The first game will be played by Mary and Zoe, the second match will be John against Lucy, so on and so forth.

As there are 7 players, a random bye was awarded, this time the bye was awarded to Steven. Steven will not play in the first round and he gets to play in the semifinal against the winner of the match between Adam and Lindsey.

After all the quarterfinal matches are played, the semifinals and final will be played to determine the champion.

Groups, then Knockout

If you have more time and want to organize a longer tournament, like ITTF official tournaments, you can use the group stage and knockout format.

In this format, the players will be divided into groups of 3 or 4 people.

Again, we are going to exemplify a tournament of 7 players in groups, then knockout format. We’ll also use CommentPicker to help us set up the draw.

Another way to do it would be to write the names of all the players on small bits of paper and take them out one by one to form the groups, but using a free tournament generator is faster and more convenient.

First step

The first step in organizing this type of tournament is to divide the players into groups of either 3 or 4 players. If there are 7 players in total, then there’s going to be 2 groups, one with 4 players and the other with 3.

The minimum number of players required to have a tournament with at least 2 groups is 6 players.

The best way to build the groups is by using another functionality of the same page that we used before. Use the team generator.

To set up the groups, we have to write the names of the players in the box, on different lines or separated by commas, like so:

A graphic of the first step from the knockouts settings

Second step

After that, select the number of groups. To know how many groups you need, divide the total number of players by four. If the result is a decimal number, then round it up to the next higher whole number.

If we divide 7 by 4, the result is 1.75, so we will round it up to 2. If we had 21 players, the result would be 5.25, so we’d round that up to 6, etc.

Now that we know how many groups we need, we’ll select that number on the “number of teams” option.

A graphic of the second step from the knockouts settings

Third step

Now, you just need to click on “generate teams” and you’ll have your 2 groups on the bottom left corner.

A graphic of the third step from the knockouts settings

Group Stage

After all the groups have been drawn, each player will play against all the other players in the group.

In all groups, regardless of whether they are 3 or 4 players, 2 players will proceed to the knockout stage.

We strongly recommend that you write the results of all the group matches in a piece of paper or on your phone, in case there’s a 3-way tie. 

The other remaining players could also play a loser’s bracket, if there’s enough time to set that up.

Once the top two in each group have been determined, they go on to the knockout stage.

What if there’s a draw or 3-way tie?

It could happen that there’s a 3-way tie. For example, it might happen that a player wins all their matches and the other 3 players win one and lose two each. How do we determine who advances to the final stage?

The easiest way to solve this problem is to count the total number of games won by each player. The player with the most games won advances to the final stage.

If you’re playing matches to one game, skip this solution and move on to our second proposed method, to count the difference between the points won and lost by each of the players in the 3-way tie.

Firstly, add all the points won by each of the players, and then subtract the number of points lost to that number. The player with the best difference between points won and lost advances to the final stage. 

Knockout Stage

This stage will be the same as the previous one, only this time the clashes will take place differently.

At this stage we will have 4 players, the first two from group A and the first two from group B.

In the semifinal, the first player of group A will play against the second of group B, and the first of group B against the second of group A. This is done to reward those players who came first in each of their groups.

After this, the final will be played and the champion will be determined.

4 Ping Pong Tournament Prizes

Now, to the most important part, the prizes!

Every good tournament must have its prizes, for which we will leave you ideas to reward the champion of the competition appropriately.

1 – Bragging rights

The first one is non-monetary and comes with any table tennis tournament, the bragging rights!

There is nothing that feels better than bragging about being the best ping pong player in the office. In my opinion, this is by far the most important prize.

2 – Trophy / Medals

Trophies and medals are the perfect touch for any tournament. Having a physical memory of the competitions that you won is special for every table tennis player.

All the players I know are proud to have won lots of trophies, and the most meaningful ones are displayed in their homes.

Trophies and medals are quite cheap, so we recommend taking the time to purchase them and award them to the champion of the competition.

A picture of Ping Pong trophies.
Photo: MGM Awards

3 – Cash

If you’re serious about competition, another thing you can do is award cash. It’s the perfect way to spice the tournament up.

What you can do is charge a small entry fee and award it to the champion. If you charged just 5 dollars as the entry fee and 10 players signed up for the competition, then the winner would take home $50. Not bad, isn’t it?

A picture of 100 dollars bills.
Photo: N26 

4 – Food

If you don’t want to bet money but want to offer a good prize, awarding food is a great option.

I personally play in a tournament league that offers alfajores to the winners of each category, and I can testify that I play up to 50% better when there is food on the line.

A picture of a chocolate cupcake
Photo: Cukit

Enjoy Running Your Ping Pong Tournament

Running a tournament isn’t easy, but it is exceptionally rewarding. Participants always have fun and it brings a bit of competitive spirit to the office team. You’re a hero for bringing everyone together.

Don’t forget to enjoy the tournament yourself, even taking part whether you’ve played ping pong before or not.

Have any questions about running a ping pong tournament at work? Ask in the comments section below and we’ll help you out.

David's been playing Table Tennis since he was 12, earning his first coaching license in 2012. He's played in national team & individual competitions, although he prefers the more relaxed nature of a local league match! After earning his umpiring qualification in England, David moved to Australia and started Racket Insight to share information about the sport he loves.

Blade: Stiga WRB Offensive Classic | Forehand: Calibra LT | Backhand: Xiom Musa
Playstyle: All-Round Attacker

Alvaro’s been playing Table Tennis since he was 15 and is now ranked within the top 200 in his native Argentina. He loves to compete in provincial tournaments and is always looking for ways to improve. Alvaro made his favourite memories with a racket in hand, and he joined the RacketInsight team to share his passion with other players!

Blade: Tibhar Stratus Power Wood | Forehand: Rakza Z | Backhand: Rakza 7 Soft
Playstyle: Forehand Looper

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