The Ultimate Guide to Ping Pong
Playing a long ball in ping pong against your friend, only to end with a perfect strike from you...
That equals one fantastic felling.
In this guide, we'll cover everything from different types of table tennis games to advanced strategies for beating your friends.
So whether you're a seasoned veteran or just starting out, we're sure you find some new information below.
So, without further ado let's get started.
Contents (links to all sections)
How To Play Ping Pong
So, you want to learn table tennis? How hard can it be? I mean, you just hit a ball back and forth with a small paddle. The net is so short that it must be terribly easy to hit it over.
Sure, the table is small, but the ball is small too. You are probably standing there (or sitting there) and reading these words in your mind, and thinking, I bet that I could.
Well, I am here to tell you that you are right. You can be playing amazing shots in no time, and I am here to show you how.
Now, before we get started, I have to convey to you the most important rule in the game of table tennis. Are you ready for it?
Getting Started with Table Tennis
Table tennis is a fun game, and you should have fun playing it. If you are not having fun, then you are doing something wrong. Quit being so serious and enjoy what you are doing.
Now that we have gotten that out of the way, we can get down to the details. If you are here, then you are either a novice player wanting to learn about the game or an intermediate player who wants to improve their game.
I have some good news for you.
The game of table tennis can be learned in 50 hours. Yes, just 50 hours. How long to master it? Well, that is a different conversation entirely.
When I set out to write this guide, I wanted to create something which was succinct and effective. From our feedback so far, we know that it works. If you follow the guides and tips in this book, then you are going to learn how to play.
How good you become is entirely up to you.
Mastering The Basics
You have to walk before you can run. That is exactly what we are going to do in this guide. Forget about matchplay, serving, adding spin, and any expert or crazy shots which you may have seen on TV.
Definitely no backflips when you are taking your shot.
Before we even hit a shot, we are going to talk a little about grip, stance, and footwork. This may sound a little boring but stick with me, and you will be hitting balls expertly in no time (or novice-ly, at least).
Getting To Grips With Your Grip (I hope I haven’t used that pun before)
There are two main grips in table tennis:
Try it. Pick up a paddle (you should have one, hopefully) and grip it in whatever manner feels most natural. Do you hold it as if you were shaking hands with someone or like you are holding a pen? Go with that grip.
The penhold grip is difficult to learn but does allow for more wrist movement which converts to more spin in your shots. This type of grip is declining in the table tennis world but is still used by some players (especially in Asia).
The handshake grip is more common and easier to master. If you are in doubt, then I would recommend this type of grip. It gives you enough control over your shots and is used by most professional players in the world.
Top tips for a handshake grip:
Keep your hands soft and firm. Imagine shaking hands with a person who you want to impress. You want to be firm but not crush their hand.
Find your own version. The handshake is the starting point. The grip which brings you the most comfort while still being able to control your shot is the best grip for you.
Take a bat and a ball and bounce the ball up and down a few times. Bounce the ball on a table. Hit the ball a few times. What feels most comfortable? That is your grip.
Great, we have gotten to grips with our grip. We are one step closer to playing an actual game.
Taking A Stance For Success
You know how to hold the paddle, you now need to know how to hold your body.
This part is going to be easy, and that is because of you. You are eager to learn. You are ready to learn. You are willing to learn. Let’s get going.
Now, don’t worry, we are going to get to hitting the ball soon. I want you to have the foundations in place before we build the next levels of a great ping pong player.
We want to start with the correct stance from the beginning so that you are not learning any bad habits. Bad habits are hard to break. Good habits are easy to keep.
Here we go. Here are the two key parts of your stance:
- Keep your body low
- Keep your feet 1.5 shoulder widths apart.
You should be facing the table. Your knees should also be a little bent. If you are right-handed, then your left foot should be a little more forward than you right. If you are left-handed, then the opposite should be true. Bend forward a little and keep your weight on the balls of your feet. Both hands should be out in front of you.
Great, you are ready to do some work.
Now, when I first started playing table tennis, I did not use the correct stance for months. When I did, I found myself to be clumsy and awkward. When I finally got it, I was instantly a better player. Start by getting things right, and you can focus on actually playing the game.
This stance will take a little work. You are going to expend more energy moving around in this position, but that is going to build your strength.
When you are in this stance, your lower body will be more engaged and tense; your upper body should be kept loose.
Your core should be solid, and your center of gravity should be low. Breathe from your belly to keep yourself centered and relaxed.
Practice hitting a ball against a surface and moving around in this stance. It may seem a little weird at first, but it is worth it, trust me.
Your Victory Dance: How To Master Footwork
One more thing and we can start to think about the game itself.
You can hold your paddle, and you can hold your body, but how about your footwork. Table tennis footwork is a lot like dancing or swordplay. You need to be fast and ready to strike. Just like a sword will come at you quickly, the ping pong ball will too.
You do not have a lot of time to react, so you need to be quick on your feet.
Don’t worry; everyone can be quick on their feet. All it takes is a little practice.
The great thing about table tennis is that you do not need to move your feet very far between each shot.
Here is a great drill: find a table tennis table (or any table) and move around it in a complete circle, only moving sideways. Switch direction and do the same. Go back and forth as many times as you can. Keep an eye on your body position and grip a paddle as you move.
Stand in position behind the table and move sideways as far as you can in one step. Now, step the opposite way. Explode back and forth as fast as you can.
Try to perform these two drills before each game as a warm-up.
Your footwork is very important, so I recommend these two drills be performed as much as possible. The faster your footwork, the better a player you will be (and dancer (and swords-person)).
Can I Play Already?
There you have it, the three most important fundamentals of ping pong. It may be a little dull to practice so much without really hitting a ball or playing a game, but these fundamentals are the building blocks of the game.
Take the time to practice each, and you will become a better player before you even play.
Ping Pong Rules
You are right, ping pong rules!
And here we will look into the actual rules of the game. Because, I mean, how can you play the game if you do not know the basic rules?
Don’t worry; we are going to start playing really soon, just bear with me.
What Is The Object Of The Game?
To reach 11 points before your opponent does. It is as simple as that.
Well, not quite as simple.
You also need to beat your opponent by at least 2 points.
If you reach 11 points and your opponent has less than 10, then you have won the game. If you reach 11 points and your opponent has 10, then play continues until one player has a 2 point advantage. You could win 12-10, 15-13, or even 27-25.
As long as you have a 2 point advantage and at least 11 points, then you win.
To win the match, you need to win a predetermined number of games (agreed upon before starting the match).
To score a point, you need to outmaneuver your opponent. If your opponent misses the ball, hits the ball but it does not hit the table on your side or hits the ball into the net, then you score a point.
You can also score a point if your opponent does not serve the ball correctly, and does any of the above. We will talk about that more in our serve section.
Table Tennis Fundamentals
The game of ping pong is officially played between two players (singles) or four players (doubles). If you are playing informally, you can play with as many players on each side as you wish.
To play, you need a table (the clue is in the name: table tennis). You also need a ball, a net, and two paddles (four if you are playing doubles). You can play indoor or outdoor.
Officially, the ball is white and 40mm in diameter. The ball also weighs in at 2.7g. If you buy any balls or sets from a sporting goods store, you can be assured that you are likely getting a ball of this size and weight. If you buy a cheap set, then you may not.
The paddles, or rackets, or bats, are generally red on one side and black on the other.
A full-sized table is 9’ long, 30” tall, and 5’ wide. Most table tennis tables are either green or blue. A net is usually included and is 6” tall, bisecting the table in the middle.
You get what you pay for. I always recommend buying quality equipment. It does not matter if you are a novice or a professional, get the right equipment and start on the right foot. That does not mean having to buy the most expensive equipment. Shop around, and you will find what you are looking for.
How does Scoring Work?
Let’s start at the beginning. A point can be won or lost on the serve.
When you serve, the ball must bounce on the server’s side of the table, clear the net, and then bounce on the opponent’s side of the table. If it hits the net, does not bounce on both sides of the table, or misses the table completely, then the opponent gets a point. If the ball hits the net but still goes over, then it is a ‘let’ and the server re-serves the ball.
Volleys are not allowed. If a player hits the ball before it bounces, their opponent gains a point.
If the ball bounces legally and the player misses the ball, their opponent gains a point.
If a player hits the ball and it misses the table or hits the net and does not go over, their opponent gains a point (edges of the table count as the ball being in, the sides do not).
Additional Table Tennis Rules
The first player to 11 points wins the game. A match is a pre-agreed number of games. The best of 5, 7, or 9 is common. This means the first player to win 3, 4, or 5 games would win the match.
Tossing a coin will determine who serves first (or some other random chance method).
Each player serves twice before the other player takes their turn.
A player must win by 2 points. If you reach 11 points but are not 2 points ahead, play continues until one player has a 2-point advantage.
After each game, the players swap ends.
In a deciding game, players switch ends after every 5 points.
Hitting The Ball
We are finally here. Well done so far on all of your hard work. Now the fun begins (I mean more fun. It has been all fun up to here, right?).
We are going to learn the four basic strokes: forehand drive, backhand drive, forehand push, and backhand push.
Ready to get started? Let’s go.
Forehand Drive: Your Go-To Shot
You will use the forehand drive a lot when you are starting out. It is one of the four most common beginner strokes. It is easy to learn, and you are going to be hitting shots with it in no time.
Top tip: If you have a table tennis table (or access to one) which can fold up on one side, then you can practice shots by yourself. Fold the table into position and practice each shot after reading a description of it.
The forehand shot is broken down into four parts: stance, backswing, strike, and finish.
Let’s walk through each one.
Stance: Well, you already have this. You read about stance and practiced it. Well done, you. Move onto the next step.
Backswing: The ball is coming to you. You need to have a backswing to generate the speed. Rotate your body to the side of your dominant hand. Shift your weight onto the back of your feet. Stay in your practiced stance.
Strike: Reverse your backswing. Rotate your body forwards and move the paddle towards the ball. Transfer your weight to the front of your feet. Keep the bat angled downwards slightly to direct it. There should be a small gap between your elbow and body. Hit the ball at the peak of its bounce. As you hit it, flick your wrist to add more power.
Finish: In other games, you want to follow through. Table tennis is a little different. Finish with your bat in front of your face. Make sure to get back into a neutral position for the return of the ball.
Easy, right? Why don’t you get out there and try it? Do not read on just yet. Find a table and practice your forehand drive. When you come back, we will move onto the backhand drive.
Backhand Drive: Adding To Your Bread & Butter Shots
Again, I have broken down this shot into four parts: stance, backswing, strike, and finish. As you have practiced your forehand swing, you will find it extremely easy to get to grips with this shot. It is essentially a mirror image of the forehand drive, with a few small tweaks.
Stance: Hey, you have this. Find your practiced stance.
Backswing: This time, instead of rotating your body, you are going to stay facing the table and bring your paddle towards your hip on the opposite side of your body. The bat should be angled down slightly.
Strike: Use your elbow to bring the bat up towards the ball. Your shoulder should not move much if at all. Hit the ball without any flick of your wrist, and at the peak of its bounce.
Finish: The bat should stop in front of your face. Your arm should be slightly bent. After the shot, return to a neutral position so that you are ready for the next shot.
Okay, off we go again. Find a table which folds in the middle and practice your backhand drive. Try to switch between forehand and backhand.
Backhand Push: The Easy Shot
Once you have practiced the backhand drive a few times, it is a perfect opportunity to add the backhand push. This shot is about recovery and not power. You want to return the ball and take the pace out of it. Let’s look at the four components.
Stance: You know what to do.
Backswing: The bat will be open this time. Angled at 45 degrees and facing upwards. Bend your elbow to bring the bat back to your chest on the opposite side of your body.
Strike: push the bat forward and downwards. You should be using your elbow to generate the movement. You want to hit the ball on the back and near the bottom. You want to make contact at the peak of the bounce. You should slice the ball and not scoop it.
Finish: The bat should finish in front of you. After that, return to a neutral position for the next shot.
You know what I am going to say. Get out there and practice this shot too.
Forehand Push: The Tough Shot
A shot where you are trying to control the ball and take some of the pace out of it. You want to hit the ball gently and long so you can recover and get in position for the next shot.
This shot feels awkward at first and is the most difficult of the basic four shots. Let’s take a look.
Stance: You’ve got this!
Backswing: Bring your arm back and swivel your body as you would for the forehand drive, but do not twist as much. You want to control the ball with a softer shot and need less power. Keep the bat open at 45 degrees and facing upwards. The gap between your elbow and body should be small.
Strike: Twist your body forward to add a little power to your shot. Keep your hands soft and slice the ball back towards your opponent. Try to play the ball as far down the table as you can.
Finish: The bat should stop in front of you. After the shot, return to your regular position and wait for the next shot.
This is the most difficult of the four basic shots to take the time to practice this one.
Add the forehand push into your repertoire and practice moving between all four shots as the ball comes back to you, either from a folded table or an opponent.
If you are following my tips, you will be playing these shots in no time.
Mastering The Ping Pong Serve
You have been mastering your basic shots but how can you play a game if you do not know how to start a game?
Every game of table tennis begins with a serve. The serve is an easy shot to play, but there are some finicky rules which you should be aware of before you try it.
Don’t worry though, follow the rules, practice your shot, and you will gain the upper hand every time you play.
What Are The Serve Rules?
Your serve starts with the ball resting freely on the palm of your hand. Keep your hand open and relaxed. Don’t cup your hand; let the ball rest on your palm and not your fingers.
Next, you have to toss the ball upwards with no spin and let it fall before you hit it. The ball should rise six inches into the air. You can hit the ball at any time during the descent.
You should strike the ball so that it hits your side of the table first, bounces over the net, and hits your opponent’s side of the table. If you are playing doubles, the ball has to strike the right side of the table on your side and the right side of your opponent’s side (from their point of view).
If the ball hits your side of the table, touches the net, and hits your opponent’s side, then it is 'let,' and you serve again.
There are a few more rules, but they mainly deal with your opponent and the umpire being able to see the ball the entire time of the serve.
There, boring rules are out of the way. Let’s take a look at how you can better serve the ball.
Top Tips For Your Serve: How To Start With The Upper Hand
Here are my top five tips for a better service. Try some or try them all, and benefit from starting each service with the upper hand against your opponent.
Keep the ball low: The lower the ball, the less chance your opponent has of playing an attacking shot. High bounces give your opponent the perfect opportunity for a smash. Try to serve so that the ball only just clears the net.
Vary your serve: If you serve with the same shot over and over, your opponent is going to be able to perfect their return. Vary your speed, location, and spin. Try some long serves and some short ones; move between fast serves and slow serves; as you learn spin, vary the type of spin you add to the ball.
Anticipate: Just because you hit an amazing serve, it does not mean that an amazing shot is not going to come back over the net. Whenever you serve, always expect the return. You should also monitor the types of return. Does your opponent favor a certain return? Be ready for that.
Use what works: If an opponent is struggling with a certain serve, then keep using it. Use what gives you the win. If they start to return the ball well, then mix up your serve again.
Do not give hints: Often, you can give away your serve by the position you take. Try not to allow your opponent to know what is coming next. Think about your position before each serve and try to mix that up as much as you mix up your actual serve.
Serving is an easy shot to learn but a hard shot to master. The only way to become adept at serving is to get out there and practice.
Our Top Tips for Mastering Table Tennis
Now that you have mastered the basic game, it is time to step it up a notch. I am sure that you have been out there, practicing hard. The more you practice, the better you will get. If you are following the basics, then your game can only get better.
No bad habits make a good player.
Good habits make a great player.
So, now that you are a good player, it is time to take the next step into greatness.
Here are our top tips to improve your game.
How to Know Your (and your opponents) Spin
When the ball comes back to you, it can be almost impossible to know what spin is on it until it bounces on the table. By that time, it can be too late.
There is a way to gain some insight into what spin is on the ball, and that is to watch your opponent’s paddle as they hit the ball.
If the racket moves from low to high, there is likely some topspin on the ball.
If the racket moves from high to low, it is an indicator that some backspin has been added.
A movement from left to right is an indicator of right sidespin.
Finally, a movement from right to left means that there is probably some left sidespin on the ball.
How To Deal With Spin
Once you can start to predict the type of spin on the ball, you can plan your return. If you know what spin is on the ball, then you have a better chance of hitting it but, that does not mean you will hit it well.
Here are my tried and tested methods for dealing with spin.
Topspin: Angle your racket downward and hit the ball above center.
Backspin: Angle your racket up and hit the ball below center.
Rightspin: Angle your racket slightly to hit the ball to the left of center.
Leftspin: Angle you racket slightly to hit the ball right of center.
The more you play, the better you will get at dealing with spin.
Generating Power With Your Body
When you are hitting your shots, especially your drives, the power comes from your arm, but there should also be some power generated by your body too. This will add force and consistency to your shots.
When you are playing your shots, swivel with your body but also transfer your weight from the back of your feet to your front. This transference of weight will add more power to your shots.
Stay In Position
Whenever you start a game, you should find your stance. Stand at the center of the table with your practiced stance. Your hands should be out in front of you, with your racket in front.
When you hit a shot, return to this position. Move back to the center and hold your racket in front of you.
This will allow you to play a forehand or backhand shot on the next shot with ease. It will also give you an equal opportunity to move to either side to hit a shot.
Find a Good Paddle
I always recommend using your own paddle. You want to be comfortable with your paddle and find consistency with it. Each paddle is different so switching from one to another can throw you off your game.
When choosing a paddle, invest in quality. I always recommend using your own paddle. You want to be comfortable with your paddle and find consistency with it. Each paddle is different so switching from one to another can throw you off your game.
When choosing a paddle, invest in quality.
Find a Good Partner
If you can find someone to practice with, you are going to get a lot more real-game experience than you would when practicing alone.
Find someone who you can practice with regularly, preferably someone who is at the same skill level as you or slightly above. You can improve together.
Practice Makes Perfect
That truly is the key to becoming a great player. The more you can practice, be it alone or with another player, the better you are going to get.
Check out our next section for some great training drills.
Common Table Tennis Drills & Training
All of the drills here are based on you playing with a practice partner. You can modify the drills slightly by using a table which folds on one side to create a surface to bounce the ball off. We recommend a partner but feel free to adapt the drills as you see fit.
Before we start, I should warn you: practicing these drills will make you a better player.
‘X’ & ‘H’
Think about viewing a table from a bird’s eye view. That is where we are going to apply the X and H.
Player A should start by hitting the ball down the forehand side of the table.
Player B will return the ball diagonally with a backhand.
Player A will return the ball with a backhand down the backhand side of the table.
Player B will return the ball diagonally with a forehand.
From above, player A’s shots will resemble an H (with the net), and player B’s will resemble an X.
The aim here is to challenge your partner and keep them moving. Try to hit the ball just where they can reach it and keep the rally going for as long as you can — switch positions after a few rallies.
What Will You Get From This Drill?
You are going to practice your forehand and backhand shots but, more than that, you are going to get a lot of footwork practice. As you improve, play shots which force your partner to really work.
This is also a great drill for mixing up your shots. Try adding looped shots or spin if you want to slow down the ball and still challenge your opponent.
Start with only forehand shots. You must play a shot diagonally across the table into the forehand section of the table. Your opponent must return into your forehand section. Continue to play forehand shots until one of you miss.
Mix it up by switching to backhand only. You must play a crosscourt shot diagonally into your opponent’s backhand area, and they must return into yours.
What Will You Get From This Drill?
It is easy to know what is coming next with this drill so it is hard to outmaneuver your opponent. This forces you to rely on power, distance, and spin.
You cannot wrong-foot your opponent, so you need to find other ways to deceive them. A great drill to improve your shots and consistency.
Down The Line
Similar to the previous drill but you can only play shots into the area opposite your own. For example, you must play a shot into your opponent’s backhand area from your forehand area, and they must play a shot between those same areas. Shots are thus played straight over the net instead of diagonally.
What Will You Get From This Drill?
This drill helps you to improve your accuracy while still being able to work on your footwork. You have a smaller area to work with, so you need to plan out your shots. The drill will help your footwork by forcing you to move in a small area to hit the ball with forehand shots and backhand shots.
Both players can only use forehand shots. The ball can be played anywhere on the table, but each player can only use their forehand.
Mix it up by having each player use only backhand shots. For expert level, have one player use only one type of shot and the other use any type of shot.
What Will You Get From This Drill?
You have to plan your shots carefully. You need to put your opponent in such a position that they leave you in a favorable position. Forcing your opponent to play a certain shot gives you the benefit of an easier shot on the return.
This drill is also amazing for your footwork. Being limited to only one type of shot means that you are going to be moving around the table a lot. Your footwork and your fitness will both improve.
Hit The Target
This is a great drill which can be played solo as easily as it can be played with a partner.
Take a ball and push in one side so that you can set it on the table and have it not move. Now, have your partner hit the ball to you and try to return it so that you hit the ball on the table. The ultimate goal here is to return the ball with a smash.
Track how many shots it takes to hit the ball and then switch with your partner.
What Will You Get From This Drill?
This is a perfect drill for improving the power and accuracy of your smash shots. You can hit the ball with all the power in the world, but it does not matter if you do not have the accuracy.
Move the ball around, so you get a chance to practice a variety of power shots.
These drills are easy to perform and will keep you on your toes (literally). The key to any successful sport is practice. The more you practice, the better you get, but that is not all. Your practice should be focused.
These drills focus on the basic aspects of the game which translate to real matches. Incorporate the drills into your practice time, and you are going to improve.
Practice, practice, and practice some more.