If you are reading this, you probably want to learn about this exciting game for leisure or to play as a professional. Table Tennis is one of the racket sports that is played on a table surface. In the past, it was referred to as Ping Pong.
How to Play Table Tennis Step by Step
STEP 1: Choose a Bat
The first step to understanding the game of table tennis is knowing the equipment you will need and also choosing the right one that will give you an advantage. Table tennis players work with four types of equipment:
As a beginner, you should get the best table tennis bat/racket that you can Easily Control. Your focus should not be about the speed or spin of the racket but instead control.
Before you invest in a bat, you should learn about the type of material used in their production and how you can identify a quality tennis bat. You should learn about the grip and which bat will be more comfortable to handle.
How to Select Table Tennis Bat？
The table tennis racket set is one piece of equipment you will need to play the game. It is usually made of a blade and rubber. It is from these parts, you can tell the quality of the table tennis bat. Some rackets come pre-made while some are customized. If you are learning to play, you should get an already made bat. This type is good for beginners, ideal for loop and a quick attack, and has great speed and control.
You can always upgrade your table tennis racket to a customized one after you improve in the game.
Points & Tips
For the already made racket, there are three things you should look out for:
- The type of handle or grip.
- The layers of wood in the blade.
- The attributes of the table tennis bat (speed, spin, and control).
The wood of the racket comes with either 3, 5, or 7 layers. The 7 layer wood has more speed compared to the lower type. However, the lower layer wood type will give you more control. Beginners should focus on the table tennis bats with 3 layers or 5 layers.
On the subject of the handle, it comes in three types:
- Anatomic (AN)
- Flared (FL)
- Straight handles (ST)
We recommend that beginners use the finished table tennis racket set with an FL handle because it gives a better grip.
The thickness of the rubber also contributes to your performance. The table tennis racket usually comes with a rubber thickness ranging from 1.0mm to 2.3mm. The very thick rubber bat gains more speed while the ones with less thickness will give you better control. As a beginner, you should use a table tennis racket with a medium thickness between 1.5 mm to 1.9mm.
On the racket, the manufacturer usually specifies the attributes on it. This way, you can tell if the table tennis racket will be good for speed, spin, and control.
STEP 2: Hold The Racket
Another part of learning to play table tennis is knowing ”How to grip”. Like we mentioned earlier, you should have better control of your racket. A proper grip will help you direct the racket so you can control the placement of the table tennis ball.
In table tennis, there are two common types of grip：
For beginners, we recommend the Shakehand grip because it gives you more control and power especially when doing backhand strokes.
If you want to learn more about weird grips, I recommend you to read the article “Table Tennis Grips“.
How to hold Shakehand Grip?
The Shakehand Grip is when you try holding the bat in a way that it looks like you are shaking hands. There are two variations of shakehand grips:
Here is how to do the Shakehand grip:
- Place your grip on the upper part of the racket handle using your index finger, ring finger, and small finger.
- Keep your index finger on the edge of the rubber.
- Place your thumb on the blade, below the rubber or the rubber surface.
- With your thumb on the blade, it allows you to lift the racket freely at any angle and you can adjust it depending on the stroke.
Shallow Shakehand vs Deep Shakehand
- For the shallow shakehand grip, you place your thumb on the blade. It is best for the forehand stroke because it is more flexible and powerful.
- The deep shakehand grip is when you place your thumb on the rubber. You can use it for backhand strokes. This type of grip gives you more control of the racket.
If you want to have the best grip when playing your game, these additional tips will help you：
- Make sure you keep a soft grip on the racket handle.
- Your index finger should be on the backhand rubber and not sticking around the edge.
- You should not change your grip during rallies.
When playing table tennis, you will notice that different players have different grips. How the next player grips their bat should not be your concern. Instead, focus on which grip will work for you. If your grip is bad, it will not help you win the game. You should feel comfortable with the type of grip you use.
STEP 3: Understand The Gameplay
There are rules for playing table tennis. Whether you are playing singles or doubles game, you must understand these rules. The rules of the game are set by the ITTF (International Table Tennis Federation) and are compulsory for professional athletes. However, as a beginner, if you are playing for leisure, you don’t need to know all the rules but still need to know the basic rules to understand the game.
- Number of Points
Before the year 2002, table tennis scoring was up to 21 points. The rules were, however, changed to make the game more interesting and now you can only play up to 11 points. The first player to score up to 11 points will win the game. If the two players score 10 points, this is most often called a deuce.
- Starting a Game
Before the game begins, players need to decide who serves first. If you are playing with your friends, you can easily decide. However, the official rules state that the decision is made by a lot. This can be done by tossing a coin or flipping discs. The most common method used to decide at lower levels of play is where the umpire is in one hand, and then you ask a player to guess which hand has the ball. The player that wins will be the one to serve first. The player can also choose to elect the opponent to serve first or choose which end of the table he/she will play first.
If the player chooses the end of the table to play, the opponent can choose to serve first or leave it for the other player. If the winner can also choose to serve first while the opponent chooses the side of the table they prefer to play first.
- Rules For Table Tennis Serve
The rules for serving in table tennis had changed over the years. However, for a casual game, it is very simple. The ball should be above the level of the table surface and behind the end line of the server. In this case, your stance must be behind the end of the table when playing a serve.
The basic serves in table tennis require you to hold the ball in the palm of the other hand you are not playing with and then throw it upwards. When the ball is dropping down, you hit it with your racket on the other hand so that it will bounce on your side of the table. It should bounce at least once before it moves to the opponent’s side.
If your opponent watches the ball bounce more than once on their side of the table, they lose a point. If the ball touches the net and it is still on the side of the opponent’s table, he can replay the service and we call this “a let”. However, if the ball touches the net and does not bounce on the opponent’s side, the server will lose a point. When the server throws the ball up deliberately, it can be said that the ball is “in play”.
- Number of Serves
Before 2001, the rules allowed each player to make five consecutive serves. When there was a deuce, you will alternate the serve until a player scores a two-point lead. After 2001, the rules changed and each player is now allowed only two serves. In a deuce, the service alternates until a player scores 11 points to win the game.
- Returning The Serve
When a serve is played, the opponent has to hit the ball back. The ball will need to bounce only on the server’s side of the table once. If you allow it to bounce more than once on your side of the table, you lose a point.
In case you are returning a serve in a rally, the ball hits the net but doesn’t touch your opponent’s side of the table, a point will be awarded to your opponent. If the ball hits the net and still moves to bounce on the opponent’s table, the rally will continue. The player receiving the ball can stand in any position to play the return but is not allowed to touch the table with their free hand.
The player is also not allowed to move the table. If the server does a backspin serve that causes the ball to go back over the net to the server bouncing on the opponent’s table, the receiver will need to hit the ball before it bounces on the server’s part of the tennis table. This will require the receiver to go beyond the net to play a stroke.
- The rules of table tennis do not differ for both professional and casual players.
- Remember that when doing a service, the ball should be on the non-playing arm.
- Keep your stance behind the end line on your side of the table, holding the ball on your open flat palm.
- Players only get to do two serves except when there is a deuce with each player scoring 10 points each. The serve will be alternated until a player scores 11 points.
- Your non-playing arms should not be on the tennis table when serving the ball to your opponent.
- The ball should bounce once on your side of the table before moving to your opponent’s side.
STEP 4: Master Two Basic Serve
In table tennis, one thing you should know is that every point in a set begins with a serve. When the serve begins, you can control the point and even force your opponent to make a weak return. You can even force your opponent to place the ball on your strong side. However, it all depends on your technique of serving the ball. As a beginner, you can learn how to make the best serves.
There are many ways you can serve a ball but it isn’t possible to learn all of these techniques as a beginner.
Divided according to the racket surface of the serve:
Divided according to the rotation of the serve:
Even though there are many types of serves, it can be difficult for beginners to learn every one of them. It is best to master only two important serves. We recommend the forehand topspin serve and forehand backspin serve because they give you an advantage over the other player.
Most players will expect you do a simple forehand or backhand serve, so you can surprise them with a spin serve. This way don’t have enough time to prepare or control the ball and it will give you an advantage in the game.
Forehand Topspin Serve
The forehand topspin serve is one of the best ways to surprise your opponent. This type of play prevents the other player from making any strong attack. It gives you more control over the ball so you can use it to your advantage to win points.
How to do a forehand topspin serve？
- Stance: You should keep your feed at a 45° angle and it should be facing the end line of the tennis table. This way you can make a comfortable stroke. Your knees should be bent slightly whole your legs should be set apart from each other. They should be shoulder-width w so you get enough balance and can recover quickly after making the serve. The ball should be on your free palm and you should keep the palm flat. Also, make sure that your free hand stays behind the end line of the table and raise it above the table surface. Your torso should be slightly bent facing forward and your elbow bent around 90 degrees.
- Backswing: When the serve is starting, you should through the ball in the air and your racket be in the middle of the backswing. The ball should be thrown in a nearly vertical direction facing up according to the rules of table tennis. The height of the ball varies depending on the height of the player but it is more than 16cm. Keep your racket a bit backward and slightly facing upwards, then rotate a little using your shoulders and make a backward movement with your racket arm. Your focus should be on the ball when making your backswing.
- Strike: After you are done with the backswing, you need to strike the ball. Keep your shoulders at 45 degrees facing the end line of the table. Keep your bat moving backwards and then it should face a slightly downward position. Your focus should be on the ball and then you can lean forward slightly from your waist. When you have tossed the ball in the vertical position, you can tip forward and make contact with the ball.
- Finish: When you have hit the ball, the racket position should be facing forward and towards the table. However, before it hits the ball the racket faces upward and forward so that you get the topspin to serve on the ball.
Forehand Backspin Serve
The Forehand backspin serve is quite different from the forehand topspin serve when looking at the technique. This serve helps you earn points and will prevent your opponent from making a strong attack against the serve.
How to do a forehand backspin serve？
- Stance: Your feet should be kept at a 45-degree angle and like the forehand topspin, they should be facing the end line of the table. You should also keep your knees slightly bent and then your feet shoulder-width apart. You need to also place the ball on your free palm lying flat. Your free hand also goes behind the end line while maintaining a position above the table surface. Keep your torso slightly bent and facing forward for balance. Then you can hold your racket on your playing hand and set your elbow bent at 90 degrees.
- Backswing: When you start the serve, you will need to toss the ball in the sit and get ready for your racket to hit the middle of the backswing. Like the forehand topspin, you have to toss the ball vertically and facing up. The height should also be up to 16cm or higher depending on the height of the player. Move your racket backwards and it should face up while you twist your shoulders. This will send a backward movement to your racket arm. While you toss the ball, your eyes should be on it throughout the midswing.
- Strike: You will need to keep your shoulders slightly turned at a 45-degree angle while you make the strike. Your position should still be facing the end line of the table. The racket should still keep moving slightly backwards and also in an upwards direction. This allows you to swing the racket forward and down when you hit the ball. This will cause a backspin from the strike and your eyes should remain on the ball.
- Finish: When you make contact with the ball, you should turn your shoulders towards the starting position. Your playing arm should go towards the table and going under the ball when you make contact. Your free arm doesn’t need any movement during the serve.
Here are some tips to help you when doing a service:
- Keep your eyes fixed on the ball throughout the serve.
- Make sure you keep a good stance so you get a better balance when playing.
- The purpose of the forehand topspin serve and backspin serve is to prevent the opponent from making a strong strike.
- You should keep your stance so you can quickly recover from the serve to make a return stroke.
- Make sure you toss the ball higher at 16cm so you don’t violate the rules of the table tennis game.
STEP 5: Learn The Four Basic Strokes
Like in other sports, table tennis requires some technical strategies when playing the game. The basic strokes in this game are the foundation of the sport and are one essential part for beginners to learn. The more you practice these strokes, the better you become in the sport.
There are several ways plays can shoot the ball. They can make defensive strokes of attacking strokes. As a beginner, it is better to learn the basic strokes first.
Before we look at the basic strokes, you also need to know about shots involved in table tennis. Shots like the lobbing is a defensive shot used by players and will cause your opponent to play far from the table surface. The player is unable to get enough time to recover their position. You can use the loop in an attacking shot. It can send the ball strongly so you have better control of the ball. The chop shot is also an attacking shot and is the opposite of the loop. It makes your opponent struggle with the tennis ball. There are also other techniques like flick and smash.
As a beginner, you must learn the basic strokes in table tennis before any other technique. These basic shots are the foundation for the other strategies because they follow similar rules. It is the only way you can fully understand or master the game. We will be looking at these strokes in detail and show you how you can play them.
These four basic strokes include:
- When making a stroke, you must keep your eyes focused on the ball.
- Always make sure you return to your stance quickly, so you are prepared for a return stroke from your opponent.
- Master the basic strokes and also focus only on your play and not how your opponent is playing.
- Keep your arms facing forward towards the direction of the ball so that you can accurately make contact with the incoming ball. Your arms should be facing forward.
- Keep your legs shoulder-width apart. If you are left-handed, you can keep your right foot behind your left foot slightly. They should be a step away from each other.
STEP 6: Apply Basic Strategy
You should put everything you have learned into the game. If you intend to take table tennis as a profession, you should have a strategy. Whether it’s a loop or spin shot that works for you. Most experts believe that successful athletes have a working strategy that helps them win their games.
Here is a strategy we propose:
- Service: You should make sure that you put 50% power in your service and 50% in a heavy backspin.
- Return: You should play a forehand or backhand drive stroke except the ball is a backspin.
- Rally: If you get a ball in a topspin position, your strategy should be to a return drive stroke but if it is a backspin, it should be a push stroke.
- Winning points: You will get most of your winning points mostly when you out-rally your opponent.
- Practice: You will need to get more involved in training if you want to move from a beginner to a professional in table tennis. The best players today undergo training to get better at this skill. Every player has their strengths and weaknesses but with training, they improve on them. If you have a challenge doing a backhand flick with practice more you can learn more techniques to help you get better at it. You will need the help of a coach that to drill you in this sport and teach you all the techniques in table tennis.
What to do next to reach a higher level？
Like we mentioned earlier, many people have their reasons for wanting to learn how to play table tennis. Even though it is a recreational game, it is one of the most competitive sports in the industry and you can become a professional at this game. You can learn to play and pursue table tennis as a career. There are many benefits of learning this sport. It is a great way to keep fit and you also get to enjoy the game.
The choice is yours to determine what you want to do with this skill. However, the first step you need to take is to master the strategies and all the rules about the game. You will need to learn how to serve, block, spin, smash and master other advanced techniques in table tennis. Athletes make a lot of money from this sport and it is certainly worth it.
Even if you feel you have reached a higher level as a player, you can feel tension when playing in a competition. It is important that as you learn how to play tennis, you also take part actively in match plays. This will help build your confidence and allow you to develop your skill. You should seek expert training so you can get better at table tennis. There are many online tutorial videos and materials that help you learn more about this game. However, you will still need to get practical training and coaching on table tennis. The best way to get better is by taking part in this sport regularly and making it part of your everyday routine.
My name is Cosmos Boll and I’m 26 years old. I’m Chinese and live in Shanghai.
I am a table tennis enthusiast and a professional table tennis coach.
My idol is Timo Boll who is the greatest player in the world.