Get Ready to Play Ping-Pong! – Table Tennis Guide for Beginners

Girl playing table tennis.

Have you ever played ping-pong? You must have!

This sport is so widely popular that there is almost no chance you never held a ping-pong paddle in your hands. Most of the people encounter table tennis at different parties or family gatherings and play it for fun.

However, this fun, casual activity hides a sophisticated, well-developed sport that can potentially improve your life. The main benefit of ping pong is the fact that anyone can play it, anytime and anywhere. At the same time, it is gentle on your body, while it keeps you fit, healthy and mentally active.

For all of these reasons, more and more people decide to devote their time and energy to this game and take it seriously. The number of table tennis beginners, amateur players and professionals is constantly rising. Some statistics say there are about 300 million ping-pong players in the world!

So, would you like to join them? Are you ready to take the first step, learn the basics and eventually become a proud ping-pong player who enters tournaments and has a high rating? Or would you like to learn how to stay physically active while playing the sport you like and having fun?

No matter what your motivation is, we are delighted to have you here. We’ll do our best to give you all of the information you need to enter the world of ping-pong and transform you from clueless newbie to well-informed beginner. Let’s dive in!

First of All, Ping-Pong vs. Table Tennis?

Close up service on table tennis.

You must have heard of both of these terms. To be honest, it can be a bit confusing, especially if you are just a beginner in the field. Are ping-pong and table tennis the same thing? Is there any difference between the two? If not, which term is the correct one?

The answer is quite simple: Ping Pong is Table Tennis. Table Tennis is Ping Pong. These two terms are interchangeable. The only thing you have to choose is which name you like better.

International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) offers evidence for this assertion, based on the history of the sport.  The phrase “table tennis” appeared for the first time in 1887 on a board and dice game made by J.H. Singer in New York.

As the popularity of the sport spread, different names were trademarked and patented.  A decade later, in 1901, the English sports company, John Jacques & Son, came up with a catchy trade name we use today – “Ping-Pong.”  Their marketing campaign was so powerful, that the name stuck with players and the first “Ping-Pong Association” was formed in England by the end of the year, only four days after the formation of “The Table Tennis Association.”

American company Parker Brothers decided to take this game one step further. After purchasing the legal rights to name “Ping-Pong” from John Jacques, they threatened to take legal action against everyone who used their recently acquired trademarked name without specifying the use of their sporting equipment.

Therefore, tournaments and clubs who wanted to keep playing without being sued for not using Parker Brothers’ equipment exclusively had to come up with a solution. They decided to go with the term “Table Tennis” instead and keep playing the sport they liked. Since that moment, and the establishment of the official International Table Tennis Federation in 1926, the game has been known as Table Tennis. However, the catchy phrase “Ping Pong” is still widely used, especially in the USA.

Learn About Rules & Etiquette

table tennis player serving, closeup - small depth of field, focus at the ball!

The best table tennis tips for beginners come from learning the basic rules and etiquette. Here’s what you need to know before you dive into the game.

In ping-pong, two opponents or two teams (one team counts two players), play a match. Table tennis match consists of an odd number of games, but most commonly 5 or 7. On the other hand, one game consists of 11 points.

Opponents play using wooden-based paddles covered in rubber. They hit a small, lightweight, celluloid ball over the net, onto the opponent’s side of the ping-pong table.  A point is won when your opponent fails to return the ball to your side, or if they manage to hit it before it bounces on their side of the table. Ball, rackets, net and the table all have to have specific dimensions.

The overall objective of the game is to win the match by gaining at least 11 points and being at least 2 points ahead of your opponent, in order to win more than half of the number (3 out of 5 in 5 game match, or 4 out of 7 in 7 game match) of maximum possible games.

For example, if both players or teams (in case of doubles) have won 10 points, the first player or team who gets a 2 point lead, wins the game.

There are many more rules you must obey, regarding servings, rotation and so on. Also, there is an established etiquette which ensures all of your matches go smoothly and without any conflict. For example, table tennis players apologize for “nets” and “edges,” shake hands, inspect each other’s racket and have a customary structured warm-up with their opponent.

As these rules are too extensive to explain in one article, our recommendation for you is to take some time and study the International Table Tennis Federation’s Handbook. Here, you will find everything you need to know about general rules, etiquette and competition regulations.

Where and How to Learn?

Cute little boy playing table tennis indoors

Now that you are familiar with the terminology, general objective, rules, and etiquette of ping-pong, you are ready to learn more about the training and necessary equipment. What majority of beginners want to know is what the right way to enter the world of table tennis is? Should you train on your own? Is it enough to only play matches? Is there a school or a program that could help? We’ll try to answer all of these questions in this section.

The first thing you should know is, you can learn how to play ping pong on your own. There are various guides, courses, and tutorials online that could help you with that. For starters,  this video on how to play table tennis step by step might be helpful. Also, we will offer you some advice on how to learn the art of ping-pong by yourself.

However, if you decided to look for some professional help, your local table tennis club is a good starting point. On the other hand, if you want to take your game to the next level and develop your skills further, you should consider visiting some of the table tennis training camps run by top clubs all over the world.

If you’ve decided to start training on your own, here’s what you should be aware of:

  • To achieve real progress, you should train at least once a week, plus play games once a week as well. You can play more often, just make sure to keep a ratio of around 70% training and 30% games. If you are aiming for rapid improvement, playing 4-5 times a week will benefit you the most.
  • Go for more frequent shorter training sessions, rather than one longer. Keep your training sessions shorter than two hours. After this time, your concentration will drop, so there is no point in torturing your mind and body.
  • As a beginner, you should spend as much training time as possible on the table, hitting the ball to develop correct technique.
  • Focus primarily on the “big six” strokes – forehand and backhand counterhit, forehand and backhand push, serve and serve return. Leave around 20% of your training time to learn fun moves as well – smashing, lobbing and backhand loop stroke for example.
  • Pay attention to your footwork.
  • Find a partner and do the drills. This is a training routine where one player is working on a particular part of his game while the other player is working on another aspect. As you are just the beginner, keep the drills simple. They should last about 5-10 minutes.
  • Don’t neglect the warm up and the cooldown.

How to select the Best Ping-Pong Equipment on the Market? – 2018 Reviews

Any instructions on how to play ping pong for beginners, need to come with the list of necessary table tennis equipment and explanation on how to choose the right pieces for yourself. For that reason, we will give you a brief introduction to ping-pong paddle, balls, tables, shoes, and accessories selection and recommend you some of the best products on the market. Enjoy!

Choosing the Best Ping-Pong Paddle

Two table tennis or ping pong rackets and balls on a green table with net; shallow DOF, focus on rackets

No matter whether you are playing as a professional or an amateur, you’ll need your own best ping-pong paddle. Borrowing someone else’s racket is a valid option only if you are not training but rather playing from time to time, just for fun, without any commitment to the sport.

The table tennis racket will be your main tool and your best friend while you play. It is made up of a wooden blade, which can vary in size, weight, and shape. However, it has to be flat and rigid.

The next part of your ping-pong paddle is the rubber. It comes in two colors, red and black and it can be either ordinary pimpled or sandwich rubber. This material is glued onto both flat sides of the wooden blade, and it is used to hit the ball. The color of the rubber must be different on each side, which means you will have a paddle that is black on one side and red on the other.

What’s the difference between ordinary pimpled and sandwich rubber, you ask?  Well, the first one has pimples evenly spread all over its surface, and it’s made up of one layer of non-cellular rubber. On the other hand, the latter is made up of one layer of cellular rubber (or sponge) and one additional layer of pimpled rubber on top of it. The first layer is glued directly to the blade, while the pimpled layer is used to hit the ball.

Things get a little more complicated when you realize these pimples can face both outwards and inwards. If you choose outwards facing pimples, you will get a pimples-out (or pips-out for short) rubber. In the case where pimples are glued to the cellular rubber, you’ll have pimples-in sandwich rubber, smooth rubber or reverse rubber.

Most commonly these days, you will come across smooth rubber. Many players prefer it because it offers the most speed and spin when hitting the ball. Pimples-out sandwich rubber, on the other hand, gives better control and solid speed for hitting against spin. Ordinary pimpled rubber is rarely used among players, due to lack of spin and speed even though it does offer significantly greater control.

As you can see, choosing your first ping-pong paddle can be quite confusing. There are lots of details regarding the rubber, and we didn’t even have a chance to mention the different varieties of the blade, the grip and handle type and how they should match your style. Still, players are usually advised to avoid premade paddles and choose all of the pieces separately to suit their needs. If you decide to do so, this guide will help you make your first purchase.

However, if you still want to check out the premade paddles as well, STIGA Pro Carbon Table Tennis Racket is definitely a good idea for the beginners. It comes with 7-Ply extra light blade, S5 ITTF approved rubber for tournament play and 2 mm sponge.

Choosing the Best Ping-Pong Tables

Table tennis table and racketTable tennis table and racket

Having a ping-pong table is crucial for the game because it is the field you play on. However, not every player needs to have one at their home. If you become a member of a table tennis club and mainly play there, you won’t need the table. However, if you decide to train on your own and you want to play with your friends and family at your home and have fun, purchasing a ping-pong table is a good investment.

In this case, you will have to decide on a number of factors. Do you plan on using it outdoors or indoors? Do you want it to be portable and easy to store? High-quality net, strong legs, proper leveling and desired thickness all matter.

If you really want to learn how to play, you should stick with full-sized tables rather than compact ones.  Also, make sure that you have enough room (2-3 yards/meters on each side) to move around the table and make a swing. Being cramped often results in playing too close to the table and distorting your technique.

This video should give you a general idea of how to choose a perfect ping-pong table for yourself. Our recommendation is JOOLA Inside Table Tennis Table with Net Set. It comes 95% pre-assembled which means you can set it up and start playing in less than ten minutes. Also, it is ideal for beginners who want to train on their own, because it can be set to solo playback mode where one side of the table is left vertical. It offers excellent mobility, and it is USATT approved.

Are you looking for a more affordable alternative?

As I mentioned, one of the things you should consider when buying a ping-pong table is whether you want it to be portable or not and how much money you’d like to spend.

What does this mean?

Let’s say you don’t have enough money to buy a full-sized, regular table tennis table, yet you still want to train at home and not just at the club. You probably have a dining table, pool table or something similar at your home. However, none of these surfaces are suitable for ping pong training.

Or, are they?

In this case, conversion tops are the ideal solution.

This special, portable type of tennis table, will turn your pool table into ping-pong playing field within seconds. All you need is a friend to help you set it up, and the rest of the ping pong equipment and the game can start.

Conversion tops can be used on the pool or air-hockey tables, or on your regular dining table.

Some types are reversible, and they have two sides – one for ping pong and the other for different games like checkers, backgammon, cards, and chess.

Some of them even float and can be used in the swimming pool! However, they are made for fun and recreational purposes only and won’t be of much of a help in your training.

If you decide to go with a table tennis conversion top instead of regular ping pong table, you should pay attention to its thickness and size, materials it is made of, brand, price and how easy it is to store away. You can learn more about how to pick the best table tennis conversion top for yourself in our latest guide.

A quick tip before we proceed to choose the rest of the ping-pong equipment –  Martin Kilpatrick Conversion Table Tennis Top is our sincere recommendation. It is 3/4″ thick, comes with a 3-year warranty and has a dovetail connecting system which prevents table separation and provides better stability. Excellent workmanship and solid construction make this conversion top perfectly aligned, while protective EVA foam paddings prevent the table underneath it from being scratched or damaged.

Read the full guide for buying conversion tops here.

What if you already have a table, but you need a new net set?

We have a solution for this situation, too. Fortunately, good quality nets are quite affordable.

If you want to become a serious player, your net needs to be 15.25 cm high. Some nets have adjustable posts, to allow you set the height according to your wishes, but if you want to play in official clubs and tournaments, you should avoid getting used to such luxury. The height of the net is predefined by the rules of table tennis, and it should be respected.

If the net has screw-on clamps on both sides, that is a bonus. Here, we would recommend JOOLA Avanti Table Tennis Net and Post Set. It has screw-on clamps, it fits tables of various thickness, and it is excellent for beginners. To be fair, spring clamps can work just as well, if they can grip the surface firmly enough.

Another important feature when it comes to nets is whether you can tighten them on each side. Tightening system needs to be reliable and prevent any slipping. Net that keeps coming loose can be really annoying and inconvenient.

Choosing the Best Ping-Pong Balls

Huge pile of colorful balls

The rules on how ping-pong balls should look like have changed over the years. So, the first thing you need to check, when purchasing table tennis balls is if they meet the most recent criteria.

Right now, the official table tennis rules state that balls need to be:

  • Spherical, with a diameter of 40 mm and weight of 2.7 g;
  • Made of celluloid or another similar plastic material;
  • Matt, white or orange.

If you dig deeper into the art of choosing a perfect ping-pong ball, you will realize that most manufacturers have a 3-star system for grading their balls. According to this system:

  • 0 and 1-star balls have the lowest quality, and they are most commonly used for training purposes.  They are cheap and ideal for beginners. For example, you should consider purchasing, STIGA 1-Star Table Tennis Balls.
  • 2-star balls have better quality than the previous category, but they are still not good enough to be used for serious competition. In reality, you will rarely come across these balls (for example, Viper Table Tennis Balls).
  • 3-star balls have the best quality which is why they are considered the competition standard. They have great balance and roundness. Unfortunately, they cost much more than the 0 and 1-star balls, but at the same time, they don’t seem to last any longer (for example, STIGA 3-Star Table Tennis Balls).

As a beginner, you should buy some 0 or 1-star balls from a reputable manufacturer. Nowadays, they are almost just as good as 3-star balls, and they cost significantly less.

Choosing the Best Ping-Pong Shoes

Young girl table tennis player isolated

If you are reading this article, you are probably a beginner or someone who is about to enter the world of table tennis. This means you don’t have to get ahead of yourself. You don’t need quality ping-pong shoes, which are indeed lightweight and flexible but often pricey.

In fact, squash or tennis shoes, which have soft rubber sole will work just as well. Almost any sneakers are a valid option, just make sure to avoid the ones with plastic soles, as they can be a bit heavy and slippery on dusty floors.

Asics Men’s GEL-Rocket 7 Volleyball Shoe is a good option for beginners. It has a rubber sole and lightweight mesh upper which makes it flexible enough for optimal footwork. However, if you insist on having shoes that are specially designed for table tennis players, you should consider Butterfly Table Tennis Lezoline Shoe. Be aware that the features of these two models are quite similar yet Butterfly’s shoes are significantly more expensive.

Choosing the Best Ping-Pong Accessories

Table tennis paddle in open case with other mandatory equipment

After you’ve purchased all of the necessary equipment, it is a good idea to shop for few more things. They might not be as crucial as the paddle, balls or table, but they still have an essential role. Ping-pong accessories are here to protect your equipment and make it last longer. When you put it that way, this seems like a sound investment.

The main thing you should look for is a quality ping-pong racket case. Its primary role is to keep your paddle safe from dirt, spills, sunlight and other sorts of damage. You can go with racket shaped cases, like the STIGA Table Tennis Racket Cover or the ones that have an oblong shape, like JOOLA Table Tennis Tour Case.  In general, oblong-shaped cases offer more protection to your paddle’s edges, and they often have insulating foam on the inside.

You will sometimes come across different cleaners and sponges for your paddle, like the Butterfly Table Tennis Racket Care Kit for example. However, you should be aware that none of these are now permitted for cleaning your rubbers, so don’t spend your money on them. Cleaning cloth with a little bit of water is all you need.

Where to find ping-pong clubs and tournaments?

table tennis player serving

Okay, you grasped all of the “how to play table tennis” basics, you found the perfect racket and balls for yourself and you are ready to go out in the open and show the world your newly acquired skills. So, where do you go? Where are the clubs you can join and the tournaments and competitions you can participate in?

First of all, you can gather information about different tournaments happening in your country by visiting two major ping-pong related websites. To find tournaments and clubs in the USA, check out the official USATT website. You will notice that both clubs and tournaments are classified into different categories to make your search simpler.

However, if you live outside of the USA, check the event calendar and the Country Directory on the ITTF website. Here, you will find an alphabetically ordered list of the contact details for each country affiliated with the International Table Tennis Federation. Your country’s administrators should help you get the details about various tournaments in your area.

To participate in tournaments in the US, you’ll have to purchase a tournament pass or USATT membership. There’ll also be additional fees for each tournament you choose to enter.

You can enter a competition according to your rating or your age. Beginners are usually advised to choose rating categorization rather than age. As you know, USATT has a national rating system and according to it, “rating points are gained or lost by winning and losing matches in overall tournament results.”

The best players in the USA rate around 2700, while an average player falls somewhere between 1400 and 1800. A beginner is usually in the 200-1000 range, so you should choose your category accordingly.

Another interesting option, which might be more fitting for experienced players rather than newbies, is starting your own tennis club and hosting a tournament. In case there are some adventurous, enthusiastic and brave beginners reading this article, we will leave you some information as a starting point to help you achieve your goal. Read this article to find out how to start a ping-pong club, and consult this blog post if you aspire to host your own tournament.

Where to find useful websites and YouTube channels?

As you know, the table tennis topic is too extensive to be packed in one article. No matter how many words we write, some things will still end up left out, due to the complexity of the sport. However, what we can do is show you where to look for additional information.

These are some of the most respected and most frequently visited websites in this niche:

  1. International Table Tennis Federation’s website – The ITTF is the world’s biggest authority when it comes to table tennis. Everything you need can be found here. If you have any dilemma, this is the place where you’ll find your answers.
  2. USA Table Tennis – The American equivalent to the ITTF is the USATT. Tons of useful information for players based in America.
  3. AllAboutTableTennis.com – The name says it all. On this website, you will find useful advice from people who had been playing their whole life.
  4. MyTableTennis.net – If you are looking for a website that offers a combination of latest table tennis news, great training advice and forum, where you can ask questions and discuss with other ping-pong players, this is a place to go.

On the other hand, following a ping-pong YouTube channel is always a good idea, cause you have a chance to see different demonstrations, follow matches and see the equipment you plan to purchase.

  1. PingSkills – This is an active channel that focuses on instructional videos. The team also answers questions submitted by their followers. Perfect for beginners.
  2. Pongfinity – If you are looking for ping-pong related fun, Pongfinity is a channel you should subscribe to. The team focuses on different tricks and entertainment. However, they are worth a check.
  3. Table Tennis University – At this channel, you will find tennis coaching videos, insider secrets, winning tactics, and advanced strategies used by the pros.

Conclusion

Let’s make a short recap of what we’ve learned today:

  • Table tennis and ping-pong are the same things.
  • There are official ping-pong rules that have to be respected.
  • Training, commitment, and wise practice are the keys to success.
  • Choosing the right equipment for yourself matters.
  • Ping-pong clubs and tournaments can be found all over the world, and they are ready to welcome you.

We hope that we succeeded in our mission to help you become even more interested in table tennis and learn some basics that will get you started. The long path is ahead of you, but don’t worry, you will have a lot of fun, and you will be satisfied with your results.

If you have any further questions or valuable experience you want to share with us – leave us a comment. If your friends are also table tennis lovers, feel free to share the knowledge!

Welcome to ping-pong community!