Table Tennis Information

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dotIf you've ever been to camp or hung out in a rec room, chances are you've played table tennis.

This quick-paced game of skill and strategy has been common everywhere from picnics to vacation resorts since it first gained popularity in the early part of this century. Once just a fun way to spend time with friends and family, table tennis has rapidly become a sport of serious competition.

It even made its official debut as an Olympic event at the Seoul games in 1988.

According to U.S.A. Table Tennis, 19.8 million Americans now play the sport. This number is much higher around the world. Fans of table tennis say it's popular because anyone who can see over the table can learn to play and develop their skill.

dotTable tennis and ping-pong are exactly the same game. It's primarily known as table tennis today because a game company, Parker Brothers, owns the name "ping-pong."

No one is exactly sure where or when people got the idea to play this indoor version of tennis. Arnold Parker wrote the book Ping-Pong: The Game and How to Play It in 1902. He names 1881 as the first date he heard in connection with the game.

He believed that was the year someone in England started to play with cigar box lids for bats, champagne corks for balls, and a row of books for a net.

dotToday's version of table tennis is much different. Instead of cigar box lids and corks, players use rackets that can be a variety of shapes and weights. It's up to the individual player to decide what type of racket best suits his or her game and provides the most effective play.

The ball is a standard white sphere that weighs 0.9 ounces. It is made of celluloid or similar plastic. Though the ball looks hollow, it is actually pressurized slightly with a gas.

Games are played on a table that measures nine feet by five feet and is just over two feet above the floor. The table is divided into two courts by a net suspended six inches above the playing surface.

dotTable tennis is primarily a form of recreation in North America. But in many countries, it is considered a serious sport.

The current superpowers of international table tennis competition include Sweden, China, Germany, Belgium and South Korea. In Europe and Asia, table tennis is a big business. Top players are endorsed by shoe and clothing companies much like sports figures in the U.S. Some countries, like Sweden and China, even pay their top players just to practice.

Luckily, you don't have to be an expert to have fun playing table tennis. Being good at table tennis depends more on endurance and reflexes than on size and strength. People of all ages, genders and abilities can play on an equal field.

It's one sport that is easily accessible to everyone, including people in wheelchairs. All that's needed is equipment, a minimum of two players, and 30 spare minutes, and you've got yourself a game.

Getting Started

dotBecause a tennis table can cost $500 or more, many people play at local recreation centers or at commercial gaming establishments. Places that offer tables usually have equipment to loan as well, but those who enjoy the game might want to invest in their own paddle and balls.

These are generally available at sporting goods stores. Basic paddles cost an average of $10 to $25, and good quality balls are about $1 each.

dotOnce you've found a place to play and have the equipment in hand, it's time to learn the fundamentals.

There are currently three standard grips for holding the table tennis racket, but the "shakehands" grip is the most popular and easiest for beginners. In "shakehands," the paddle is gripped with all fingers, with the thumb resting by itself on the opposite side of the index finger.

The pinky, ring and middle fingers wrap around one side of the handle, with the index finger resting on the bottom edge of the rubber. The thumb goes on the top of the handle on the other side. Hold this grip naturally, not too tightly or loosely, and it should feel comfortable and provide good control of the paddle.

A player's stance is also important. The typical stance is a slight crouch forward, feet shoulder-width apart, with bent knees and ankles. Upper arms should be kept close to the body, with the forearm and racket pointing forward. This position enables players to move from side to side in a "shuffle" to easily catch and return the ball.

dotA coin toss usually decides which player will serve first. To serve, a player holds the ball above table level so his or her opponent can see it, then tosses it at least six inches vertically. The ball must be struck on its way down.

After the serve, the ball is returned by the opponent and put into rally using a variety of strokes. Some examples of strokes are a drive, the primary offensive stroke that makes the ball travel low with a light topspin. There is also a backhand drive, in which the waist rotates and the ball is hit in front of the stomach. Another is the smash, which is hard, downward-driving and difficult to return.

The back-and-forth return of the ball is called a rally. During a rally, a player scores a point if:

  • the opponent doesn't make a good serve
  • the opponent can't return the ball
  • the ball touches the opponent's court twice
  • the opponent hits the ball twice

dotAdvanced players score according to more complicated rules, but these are the basics for recreational players. The first player to score 21 points is the winner. If both players have 20 points, however, the first person to score two points more than the opposing player will be the winner. If one game isn't enough, a match to decide the best of three or five games can also be played.

Most people who take up table tennis become skilled simply by playing and learning the rules through practice. It always helps to find an experienced player to help you get started.

At some community centers, it's even possible to find classes in table tennis. If you become serious about the sport, it might be time to find a coach. National and regional table tennis associations are great places to get information about local tournaments, lessons, and places to play.


U.S.A. Table Tennis
One Olympic Plaza
Colorado Springs , CO   80909-5769

International Table Tennis Federation


Table Tennis: Steps to Success,
by  Larry Hodges
Table Tennis: The Sport,
by  Scott Preiss
Winning Table Tennis: Skills, Drills and Strategies,
by  Dan Seemiller

Links Table Tennis
Links to tons of information on rules, strategies and tournaments for pros and beginners alike
Great site linking to articles and many table tennis sites around the world

All About Table Tennis
All your questions answered in one place