How To Play Table Tennis: A Beginner’s Guide

So, you want to learn the game of ping pong. Or would it be more correct to call it table tennis? In all honesty, it really doesn’t matter, they mean one and the same. Whether they call it table tennis or ping pong, all players share something in common, a love for the game they play. If you are coming here and ping pong is relatively new to you, then you’re in the right place.

What equipment do you need?

Like almost every sport, you must first acquire the equipment needed to enjoy it. In my opinion, ping pong is one of the cheapest sports out there and one of the most fun as well. There are only three basic things that you might have to purchase when it comes to playing ping pong.

Ping pong paddles

Table tennis is played by striking the ball with a paddle which is sometimes known as a bat or a racket depending on where you live. A ping pong paddle is made up of four different parts:

The handle – This is the part of the paddle that you hold. It can come in a variety of different sizes and shapes that can affect your gameplay and suit different playing styles.

The blade – The blade of a ping pong paddle is the main body of the bat and is constructed by using multiple layers of wood (and sometimes carbon).

Sponge layer – Sitting on top of the blade is a thin layer of sponge (typically between 1.2mm and 2.5mm. As a beginner, you want to look for a paddle with a thinner layer of sponge as this will give you more control over the ball.

The rubber – Finally, sitting on top of the sponge is a layer of rubber which is what actually makes contact with the ball. There are a variety of different rubbers to suit different styles of play. To learn more check out our guide to table tennis rubbers here.

Ping pong paddles are usually rated on three different things: Control, spin and speed. Beginners should look for a paddle with a high control rating and low spin and speed ratings. As you improve and get better at controlling the ball you can look for a racket with lower control and start working on generating more speed and spin with your shots. Click here to see read our list of top ping pong paddles in 2020.

Ping pong balls

Like a lot of other sports to play table tennis, you’ll need a ball. Ping pong balls are small, round and made out of plastic. The standard regulation size is 40 mm and typically they come in two different colors: White and orange.

Ping pong balls are rated in quality by a star system from 1 – 3 stars. One star balls are used for recreational play and to be used in an official tournament a ball must be three-stars. For more information check out our ping pong ball buying guide here.

Ping pong tables

Ping pong tables are one of the more expensive bits of equipment you’ll need. You can spend anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars to a few thousand for the top of range competition standard tables. If you’re looking to buy your own one then check out our top-rated ping pong tables list here. But, you don’t necessarily need to own your own as bars and clubs with tables can be found almost everywhere!

You can also get ping pong conversion tops that sit on top of other tables and allow you to get the quality of a real table without taking up as much space.

Other accessories you might want

While not essential to start playing you might want to look into a few other accessories and table tennis gear.

A good pair of shoes – For beginners, most sports or gym shoes will work fine, but, as you progress and play more, you might want to invest in a pair of shoes designed specifically with ping pong players in mind.

A paddle case – Table tennis bats aren’t the strongest and can get damaged easily by water, dust and getting knocked. We always recommend picking up a table tennis paddle case to keep your racket safe when you’re not using it.

A ping pong robot – If you begin to take your game more serious and want to practice even more then you can buy a table tennis robot that will fire balls at you to allow you to practice your shots.

Starting play

Now that you have the basic equipment down, it’s time to put that stuff to good use and to have some fun. First things first, how do you hold your bat?

How to hold the bat

The first thing to do before starting play is to make sure you’re holding the paddle correctly. There are two main ways to grip your bat in table tennis: Shakehand and penhold grip. Each grip has its pros and cons but most experts recommend that the best grip for beginners is the shakehand grip.

To read more about how to hold the paddle check out our article on how to hold a ping pong paddle here.

Learn the basic rules

The basic rules are important to know when starting out. I know there are a ton of rules out there for ping pong but you don’t need to know them all right now. If you don’t feel like reading them now, or you feel as if you will probably forget, you can always have someone at a club explain the rules to you better while you are playing.

How a game is played

  • When you and another person play a set of games it’s called a “match”. A match usually consists of a best three out of five games; so you could end up playing anywhere from three to five games total.
  • When two players play a single game, the first to 11 points wins or win by two points. (I will explain the two or more thing in a bit).
  • The player who serves first is usually determined differently depending on the club (some choose at random, flip a coin, hit the ball, etc). You will serve the ball two times then the other person will serve two times, this continues even if you are one point away from losing. (There is no “I get to serve because I’m about to lose rule)
  • In a game, if you and your opponent both reach 10 points it is called a “deuce.” A deuce is the only exception to the two serve rule. Say that you just hit your last of two serves and you lost or won the point which made the score 10-10. You would still give the ball to the opponent to serve as usual, but he will only serve one time.
  • If he wins that point, even though the score is 11-10, he does not win yet. This would be “his advantage.” You don’t really have to know the number any longer as long as you know who is ahead as the first to pull ahead by two wins.
  • If you win the next point to even it up, it would again be a “deuce”. This continues until someone has gained a two-point lead and ultimately wins.
  • After each game is played, the players then switch sides of the table, but the service always starts on the same side.

How to serve the ball

The official rules around serving from the ITTF can be a little overwhelming so we’ve summarised the basic rules around a legal table tennis serve below.

  • The serve should begin with the ball in an open palm – This is to prevent players from spinning the ball as they toss it.
  • The ball must be thrown into the air at least 6 inches – This is to prevent players from serving quickly or hiding the ball to deceive their opponent.
  • You must strike the ball behind the end line of the table – This is to prevent players from getting very close to the net before serving.
  • Once making contact the ball must bounce on your side of the table, bounce over the net and then bounce on the opponent’s side – You can’t hit it straight over the net.

If you want to learn more we have a longer, more in-depth article about the different types of table tennis serves here.

Some other rules to know

Here are some rules that you might see come up while playing. If someone hits the ball to you and it hits the very edge of the table on your side, (even if it barely hits it and goes straight to the floor) it would be the other person’s point. While it’s almost impossible to return, it really doesn’t happen that often to where it’s a problem.

Also, if your opponents hits the ball and it hits the net (not on a serve) and it still goes over onto your side, it is their point, even if it doesn’t bounce more than an inch. These kind of shots are tricky to counter and can be kind of ridiculous sometimes but they are a part of the game.

Once your reaction time gets good enough, hitting these shots can sometimes be possible. You also must let the ball bounce before hitting it. This is how it differs from real tennis. If your opponent hits the ball before it bounces, and the ball was clearly going to hit the table, then they would lose the point.

Say if you were to hit the ball and you hit it too hard over the table, and the other player hit the ball anyway, whether intentionally or accidentally, you would still lose the point so long as the ball was clearly going out of the table.

Find a club

One of the best ways to enjoy ping pong is to join a club. I recommend that you try using the internet to your advantage. Look for the closest club in your area, and if they have an updated number on file, try to call them and ask for hours of when they play.

Most of the time the clubs have a large diverse playing field. If you’re afraid that you’re too old or too young to go, no worries, there are plenty of people aged anywhere from 10 to 60+ that play on a regular basis (and the older guys can be really good too!) Clubs usually have a large diversity of people and it’s a great way to make new acquaintances.

For most people, playing at clubs is one of the fastest ways to improve your skills in the smallest amount of time. There are usually always people willing to practice with you and give advice and tips based off the feedback that they get from playing with you. Some of the more experienced players can see exactly what you’re doing wrong and try to adjust it in a way that makes you better.That is why I always found it better to play with someone who knows what they are doing, even if they are 5 times better than me.

Sometimes clubs host tournaments or can tell you where the closest one is. Club tournaments are a really fun thing to experience and there really isn’t anything like it. People from all around the area, sometimes hours away, will drive to these tournaments to play. It’s really interesting to see all the different ways each person plays.

Some people will have crazy serves, wild hits, or just play in a way you’ve never seen before. If you think you’re good enough you can enter a tournament but don’t be discouraged if you lose, there is a lot of really tough competition out there. Once you find someone to practice with it’s important to get the basic skills mastered before moving on to harder things.

Hone in on the basic skills

Before you can learn how to play at a higher skill level, you need to hone in on the skills that you can use to further develop your game. Similar to playing ping pong, you have to learn to ride a bike before you can learn to ride with no hands or to do something crazy like a wheelie. That’s why learning the two basic strokes are very important. Some of the terms people use to describe different types of shots can seem very complicated. It can be a difficult concept to grasp unless you really get to apply different types of shots. So, for now, let’s just start you off with two; forehand and backhand.

The forehand and backhand are the only two kinds of hits you’ll use in a game. Every shot will build of either of these types, some more complicated than others. In case you don’t know what some of these terms mean, let me explain. For the sake of ease, let’s say that you’re right-handed. A forehand hit would mean that you are hitting the ball on your right-hand side. A backhand hit would be on your left side. It’s quite difficult to explain some of these positions through words, however.

My best advice would be to look up instructional videos of some of these basic skills. The concept of a backhand and forehand shot are the bare basics that every player out there needs to be able to hit with consistency before moving on to more difficult shots. If you have a club, find someone who is willing to help or also needs some practice and do some drills just hitting back and forth with either backhand or forehand.

Time to get started

Now that you know how to get started, you can actually go out there and do it. Getting excited to play is only half the fun. Closely follow some of the advice I’ve given and you too can share that same love for the game of ping pong.

+ posts

Eugene (Gene) Sandoval has been one of those guys who spent too many hours around ping pong tables in high school. However, soon enough, Gene understood that there is more to ping pong than having fun. That is how he started a journey that made Eugene one of the experienced semi-professional ping pong players in the United States. As the founder of the PingPongRuler, Eugene spends most of his time surrounded by ping pong tables and research. He always has this knack for coming up with new ping pong strategies and telling the good and bad equipment apart.

Latest Posts

Popular Products