If 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
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
Table 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.
Today'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.
Table 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.
Because 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.
Once 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.
A 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
Advanced 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
International Table Tennis Federation
Table Tennis: Steps to Success,
Table Tennis: The Sport,
Winning Table Tennis: Skills, Drills and Strategies,
About.com 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
All About Table Tennis
All your questions answered in one place