Table tennis is a fast-paced, competitive game that requires quick reflexes and great hand-eye coordination. It’s also one of the most commonly played sports around the world today! Although it may sound like a complicated sport to play, table tennis actually only takes minutes to learn.
If you’re interested in learning more about this fun and popular game, then keep reading! This article will introduce you to table tennis by explaining what it is, how the game works, and how anyone can get started playing quickly.
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What is Table Tennis?
Table Tennis is a game played on a flat table divided into two courts by a net. The lightweight hollow ball is propelled back and forth across the net by small rackets (bats, or paddles) held by the players. It is a fast-paced sport that requires quick reflexes and great hand-eye coordination.
In normal play, the aim is to return the ball onto your opponents side of the table, only allowing it to bounce on your side once before hitting the ball with your racket. You win a point if your opponent fails to return the ball onto your side of the table.
Table Tennis can be played as singles (one person playing against another) or doubles (two people playing on each side) where players have to make alternate shots.
The history of Table Tennis
Table tennis is loosely based on a parlour game played in the 1880s by British Army officers stationed in India and South Africa. Their game was almost unrecognisable from the sport played today, using cigar box lids as bats and rounded wine bottle corks for balls.
Fun fact: The parlour game was coined “whiff-whaff” because of the fast back and forth movement of the paddles.
The game is naturally similar to a combination of both tennis and badminton, which were popular at the end of the 19th century. The early form of the sport was called Ping-Pong by most players. However, the name of this new game became a problem because it was also the name of an existing tabletop game made and copyrighted by Parker Brothers (in America). Ultimately, the name table tennis was adopted in 1921 and has become the most widely known name for the sport.
It wasn’t until 1901 that the hollow celluloid ball was introduced, immediately gaining popularity around the world. Along with a new ball, the first rules were published in 1901. The first world championships were then held in London in 1926, the same year that the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) was formed.
The table tennis official rules that we know today are set forth by the ITTF, who were the first to come up with a uniform rule that all countries would adopt. This rule is called “Table Tennis: The Official Rulebook” and it has been revised three times, most recently in 2003.
The rackets used today are very different to those used in the early days of the sport. It was 1959 when the ITTF defined the first set of rules, requiring all rackets to be a piece of wood sandwiched by a thin sponge layer and rubber.
Table Tennis terminology you should know
Discovering any new sport can be quite daunting, especially with lots of new words you may not have seen before. Fortunately, Table Tennis is quite a simple game, so there are only a few new terms that you need to learn:
Forehand: A shot played on your dominant side, with your elbow pointing away from your opponent.
Backhand: A shot played from your non-dominant side, with forearm perpendicular to your opponent and elbow pointing out to the side.
Rally: A series of consecutive successful hits of the ball made by 1 or 2 players on either side of the table.
Let: Used when a ball hits the net and rolls over onto the receivers side of the table during the service, or when a point is interrupted and discontinued during a rally.
Point: Won whenever a player is unable to return the ball successfully during a rally.
The rules of Table Tennis
Since the first rules were defined in 1926, they have been updated to keep up with other modern sports. There are a few key rules that anyone new to the sport should know about before starting:
- Games are played to win 11 points unless the score is 10 – 10 when the winner must lead by 2 points.
- When serving, the ball must be thrown upwards at least 16cm and then struck with the bat such that it bounces on the server’s side before bouncing on the opponent’s side.
- Each player serves twice consecutively during the game unless the score is 10 – 10 when only one serve is taken.
- A return is ‘good’ if it bounces on the opponent’s side of the table without touching the player’s side or any other object (not including the net).
- A point is scored if an opponent is unable to successfully return the ball.
- A match is won whenever one player wins the best of a predetermined odd number of games (usually 3, 5, or 7). For example, winning 2 games in a ‘best of 3’ match.
If you’re wanting to learn more about the rules, where better than the original source. Check out the full 7 pages of rules in the ITTF Handbook. If you’re looking for a version that’s slightly easier to read, check out our guide to the most important Table Tennis rules.
Table Tennis equipment
Playing Table Tennis requires only five pieces of equipment: a table, a net, a ball and 2 rackets.
To enjoy the game of Table Tennis, these could be made of anything you like. I’ve played some incredible games on a dining room table with books as the net!
As might be expected however, the ITTF have defined some standard rules / measurements for equipment to be used during competition.
All official Table Tennis tables have to have the same dimensions, or you’ll find yourself missing the table a lot! That is, the playing height needs to be 76cm (29.92 inches), the length should be 273cm (107.48 inches), whilst the width is 152.5 cm (107.48 inches).
The tables themselves can be made of pretty much anything, although most tables you can buy will have wooden tops. They can also be painted / colored any color you like, although the common colours are dark blue / dark green because it’s much easier to see the ball on those colors.
The net is comprised of 2 net posts and a long mesh fabric strung up in the middle of the table. The net should always be 15.25 cm (6 inches) tall, with a reasonable tension pulling at either sides so it doesn’t droop / dip in the middle.
You’ll find all different kind of nets available around the world, including clip-on and metal nets. As long as you have a divider roughly 15cm tall, you’ll definitely still be able to enjoy a game of Table Tennis!
The ball you use must be spherical, with a diameter of 40mm and a weight of 2.7g. They are most commonly made of celluloid or a very similar plastic composition and must either white or orange.
Table Tennis balls come in a few different types, depending on the quality specifications they are made on. Yep, some of them are less ’round’ than others! The most common types are ‘training’ balls, 1-star, 2-star and 3-star balls. If you want to play competitively, most tournaments will always use a 3-star ball. For anyone just starting out, cheaper training balls will feel almost exactly the same.
Racket / Bat / Paddle
After playing Table Tennis for over 15 years, I can safely say you’re allowed to call the racket any name you want! Many people call it bat / paddle / racket all across the world. All rackets should consist of a wooden blade in the centre, with a layer of sponge and a layer of rubber on each side.
The fun part with rackets is that they can be any size, shape or weight meaning that super-sized rackets are legally allowed in competition! Not that it would help you too much.
You’ll occasionally find plastic or wooden rackets, although I wouldn’t advise playing with these as they struggle to impart any spin onto the ball which is a key part of the sport.
What is special about Table Tennis?
Table tennis is one of the world’s fastest-growing sports, played by millions of people every day. In fact, there are close to 300 million table tennis players in China alone! That is almost twice as many in any other country.
I personally love the sport because of the competitive 1 on 1 nature, relying on your own skill and ability to beat your opponent both tactically and mentally. Playing can be both incredibly challenging, as well as incredibly fun with Table Tennis being really enjoyable at a bar with a few drinks. Ignoring those few drinks, Table Tennis can also have many great health benefits as you need to be constantly moving whilst playing.
It’s also a sport that people can play for their entire lives because it does not rely on natural quickness or speed but instead relies more heavily on technique and strategy. I’ve played (and lost) against people in their 80s who are still going strong.
You get a whole spectrum of play with Table Tennis as it can be played with friends in the backyard or at home, whilst there are also many competitive tournaments that take place all over the world! Whilst you may never get to the level of the best table tennis players ever, it’s such a fun sport to play at all skill levels.
Is Table Tennis a hard sport?
Table Tennis is a very simple sport to understand and play. It is very easy to learn the basic rules and moves, but it takes a lot of practice in order to perfect your form – this is what makes table tennis so difficult when you play against more experienced players!
Table Tennis requires that you have quick reflexes when defending against aggressive shots from your opponent. You often have very little time to react, with the distance between players being only around 3 metres. That’s where the tactical nature of the sport is important, positioning yourself where you expect the opponent to hit the ball.
When you play against better players, you’ll also find a lot of spin gets imparted on the ball. Without a lot of practise and training, it can be very difficult to read and understand this spin.
With that all being said, if you want to play a casual game with a mate in your garden, it’s a very simple, relaxing and enjoyable sport.
How can I get started?
Start by reading our comprehensive beginners guide to table tennis.
There are so many ways to get started with Table Tennis, here are some further ideas:
- Find a mate and play at your local sports centre.
- Search for outdoor tables around your town/city.
- Take beginner lessons with a local Table Tennis coach in your area.
- Join a local Table Tennis club.
- Read through more of our helpful articles on Racket Insight.
- Buy a Table Tennis ball and play with any table/implements you can find in your house. My favourite is a frying pan!
- Get inspired watching professional matches at the world championships / Olympics.
It’s such an exciting time to get started on your Table Tennis journey, so head out and discover why millions of people around the world love Table Tennis so much.
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