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A Kid's and Beginner's Guide to Table Tennis

Table tennis is an exciting, fast-paced game that is highly aerobic. It's simple to get started and with the support of local community teams, players of any age can connect with a program that helps build their skills and love of the game. The sport has grown in popularity with even virtual reality table tennis being played by many. The table tennis community is one that welcomes new players and really thrives on good sportsmanship and positivity.

The History of Table Tennis

Table tennis, originally and, still sometimes, referred to as Ping-Pong, originated in 20th-century England and then spread over a twenty-year period to other European countries. The International Table Tennis Federation was formed in 1926 and, by the 1990s, included more than 165 national associations spanning many countries. Early members of the federal included Austria, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, England, Germany, Hungary, India, Sweden, and Wales.

1926 saw the first world championships of table tennis and, for more than ten years, central European teams dominated the competition. Asian table tennis players usurped central Europe's hold on the game in the mid-1950s, as players from China flocked to the sport. Thirty years later, in 1980, the first World Cup was held. Guo Yuehau of China took home the win and a $12,500 prize. Table tennis became an official Olympic sport in 1988.

Benefits of Learning Table Tennis for Kids and Adults

Table tennis might look like a stationary game without a lot of movement or exercise, but it's actually very physical. Players are working their upper and lower legs, arms, abs, lungs, and heart as they play. Gameplay helps to strengthen muscles, moves the joints, and elevates the heart rate. It can also help improve one's hand-eye coordination. All of these physical benefits work together to improve the player's overall quality of life.

Table Tennis Equipment

Table tennis is played with either two or four players, and each will need the proper equipment in order to play to the best of their ability.

Table tennis equipment includes:

  • A table with posts and netting

  • Paddles for each player

  • Balls, enough to have one in play and several spares

Additional items that table tennis players might want but are not necessary to play the game, include:

  • Comfortable, breathable clothes

  • Sneakers

  • A towel

  • A water bottle

  • Paddle case(s)

  • Training robots

  • Boosters

  • Table tennis glue

  • Rubber paddle covers

  • Extra paddle rubbers

The table itself is the piece of equipment that requires the largest investment and the price may range from $150 to $4000. Factors that impact the price of the table include size, sturdiness, storage, portability, and brand. Popular table tennis brands include Butterfly and STIGA.

Form and Technique

The simplest table tennis stance to hold is to have your feet placed shoulder-width apart with a bend in your knees and the weight focused on the balls of your feet. This stance makes it easier to make swift movements and helps to facilitate the pivots needed to make good shots.

There are four techniques that every table tennis player should know:

Forehand - The most basic table tennis stroke is the forehand drive. Whereas, the forehand push is the best to return short balls and is one of the first techniques that every table tennis player must learn.

Backhand - Like the forehand, there is a backhand drive and push stroke for the backhand technique as well. The backhand drive should be used to return offensive shots. Ideally, it will land at your opponent's baseline. The backhand push stroke is best to return short balls. It can also be used to limit offensive returns.

Serving - Serving the ball is the only time a player truly has full control over the ball. The aim is to have the ball bounce on your side of the table before it bounces over the net to your opponent's side. There are different forms of service that can impact the ball as it is served and as players become more experienced, they may choose to experiment with their serve.

Return of the serve - Some might think that a good serve is the most important technique in table tennis but, really, the return serve is as important, if not more so. If a player makes a bad return, they open themselves up to an easy attack by their opponent and will lose a point. It is important that players learn to keep their eyes on the ball and read the spin on the serve to determine the next best stroke.

Table Tennis Safety

As with any aerobic sport, stretching before you play is important and helps to prevent injuries. Always stay ready and alert. Stay hydrated and rest between matches and training sessions in order to give your muscles and mind time to recover from the workout. Following all of the rules as you play is also important to keeping everyone safe and the game moving.

Table Tennis Rules

All table tennis games are played to eleven points and a game must be won by two points. In an official table tennis match, the winner takes three out of five individual games.

Players take turns serving, alternating after every two points. The exception to this is if the game is tied ten to ten, in which case the serve alternates with every point.

When serving, the ball is considered in play as soon as it leaves the player's hand. The ball must be held in an open palm and tossed straight up at least six inches in the air. It must strike the table on the serving side before it is hit to the opponent's side of the table.

When playing singles, the ball can land anywhere on your opponent's side of the table. When playing doubles, the serve must strike on the server's right side and then on the receiver's right side. Partners then switch places once their team serves two times.

When a ball is being served, it cannot touch the net on its way over to the opponent's side. If this happens, it is called a "let" and the player serving is given another chance to serve it. There's no limit on the number of "lets" in a game.

When playing doubles, players on the same side must alternate hitting the ball each time, regardless of where on the table it hits.

Players must let the ball hit the table before making contact between the ball and a player's paddle.

If a ball bounces back to your side of the table after striking on your opponent's side without the opponent making contact, it is the point of the player whose side it bounced back to.

If the ball touches a player's non-paddle hand, the opponent receives the point, except when the illegal contact is the result of an opponent's hit that sends the ball to the other side of the table and then hits the other player, then it is the point of the person who made contact.

A player's non-paddle hand may not touch the table. A player's paddle hand may touch the table, but if the table shifts as a result of a player's touch, the opposite player will receive a point.

The vertical parts of a table tennis table are not playable surfaces.

If no official referee is presiding over a match and a disagreement arises between players, the honor system applies and players should come to an agreement on a specific call.

Scoring in Table Tennis

There are several different ways to score points in table tennis. Players can score when:

  • A server makes a bad serve.

  • An opponent is unable to return the ball.

  • A ball bounces more than once on a single player's side

  • A player makes contact with the table or net with their non-paddle hand or part of their body.

Additional Resources


Edited by: Ben Thompson