How to Play Table Tennis
So, you want to learn how to play table tennis? Well, this is the place to start…
Hi, I’m Ben Larcombe and welcome to Expert Table Tennis. On this page I’ll be taking you through the technical process of learning how to play table tennis. We will focus on mastering the fundamentals of the game. Table tennis is a highly complex sport but at its simplest it can be broken down into just a few key parts. Go through and master each of these and you’ll be a proficient table tennis player in no time.
Actually, that’s not true.
If there is one thing I’ve learnt from the Expert in a Year challenge, it’s that mastery takes time. If we are being realistic it could take you a whole year, or more, just to perfect the basics. It may feel like the going is rather slow, and you’d rather move on to banana flicks, round-the-nets, and all sorts of other creative stuff, but stick with the fundamentals and I guarantee you will see results. After all, there are no points for ‘flair’. Table tennis, in its essence, is all about making fewer mistakes than your opponent.
You can also find this page by visiting www.howtoplaytabletennis.com!
The 10 Fundamentals of Table Tennis
The first thing we need to do is identify the fundamentals of table tennis. This can be tricky, and I’m sure different coaches have different ideas on this, but I like to include the following (and ignore everything else, for now)…
That’s ten things you’ll need to master and I recommend you tackle them in that order. The first three are known as ‘the ABCs of physical literacy’ and are important in all sports. The next three are the real basics of table tennis that you want to understand before you start playing. The final four are the simple strokes and shots you’ll need to master in order to play the game. I’m going to go through each of them, one-by-one, and give you all the help you need to start learning how to play table tennis.
You’re almost ready to start, but there are a few things you’re going to need to know (and do) before you can get going…
1. Buy a bat
You’re not going to get very far without a bat! You don’t need a really expensive one but it does need to be able to generate spin. I suggest you read my most popular blog post of all time, The Best Table Tennis Bat for Beginners. In it I reveal what not to buy (lots of the bats sold by the ‘popular’ brands are really awful) and point out a few of my favourite table tennis bats.
2. Find a coach
Lots of beginners try and ‘go it alone’, teaching themselves how to play from YouTube videos and blog posts. This can work, but it isn’t easy. I actually wrote a blog post about how to become your own table tennis coach in response to so many readers emailing me saying that there isn’t a table tennis coach for miles around. To some extent you do need to take responsibility for your own development as a table tennis player but at the same time working with a coach, even for just an hour a week, is sure to pay dividends. Private coaching can be expensive but it’s worth it.
I want to say this one more time before we get started; getting good at table tennis takes time! You need to understand that you’re not going to get it overnight. Table tennis is one of those sports where if you don’t know what you are doing an experienced player can absolutely wipe the floor with you. There is a good chance you are going to suck compared to some of the club players you’ll come up against. Stick at it. They have probably dedicated more hours to this sport than you can believe.
Now we’ve got that out of the way it’s time for the exciting stuff. It’s time to start learning how to play table tennis!
Balance is one of the ABCs of physical literacy. You may believe that good balance is something you either have or you don’t, but that isn’t true. Just like all physical skills balance can be worked on and improved.
At the most basic level balance is all about distributing your weight evenly so that you can remain upright and steady. If you have too much weight going forwards, backwards or to either side you will lose balance. You probably take a lot of this for granted, having mastered balancing a long time ago, but it’s worthwhile pointing out that the better you are at balancing the faster you will improve.
Balance is not a yes/no kind of skill, as we might believe. In fact, everyone is on a scale with some people having much better balance than others. If you are serious about improving your table tennis you should want to move further along the scale.
Table tennis is an active sport and therefore we are more interested in dynamic balance than static balance. Dynamic balance is the ability to maintain balance and control of the body whilst moving. In a table tennis match you need to be able to maintain balance as you move to the ball, as this will enable you to play a good shot and move for the next ball.
Here is a video explaining the importance of balance in table tennis by Wang Wen Jie, coach on the Swedish club Askims BTK.
Some of the key points he mentions are;
- Keep your body low and in the middle
- Your upper body should be relaxed
- Make sure your feet are in the correct position
There are lots of non-table tennis activities and exercises you can do to improve your dynamic balance. It’s worth spending some time on these until you feel really comfortable. You should be able to run, jump, hop on both legs, skip, and do all sorts of combinations of these movements while maintaining balance.
Master the art of balance early on and you’ll find everything else comes much more naturally. Good dynamic balance is a skill that the ‘naturals’ often have from the start. It’s one of the reasons they make playing table tennis look so easy and improve so quickly.
Coordination is another one of the ABCs of physical literacy. Coordinated people are good at skills such as throwing and catching, hitting and kicking. They are able to make the right movements at the right time.
Coordination is crucial to table tennis success. You need to be able to track the ball and then move your body correctly and on time in order to make a stroke. Hitting a table tennis ball may seem simple but in fact it is highly complex. That’s one of the reasons why they haven’t been able to create a machine/robot that can beat a human yet.
Whether you class yourself as coordinated or uncoordinated really doesn’t matter. If you want to learn how to play table tennis you need to work on improving your general and table tennis specific coordination as much as possible. You should work on your throwing and catching, especially with table tennis balls. You can also do exercises where you have to kick the table tennis ball. This works on your balance as well as your coordination.
Here’s a video of some table tennis specific coordination training.
It might seem very basic but this is not a waste of time at all. Children do this stuff. They have coaches that get them to do all of these coordination drills early on and then when they actually start playing they pick it up much faster. If we are learning to play as older children or adults we should give these exercises a try too.
Here is another example. Balancing a balloon on your bat while also trying to dribble a table tennis ball through cones is incredibly difficult. It is working all different parts of your body and giving your brain loads of things to think about and regulate at once.
It is a good idea to practice all of these ‘kids’ exercises and games. Bounce the ball on your bat. Play against a wall. Try to run while keeping the ball on your racket. All of these will build up your foundation and help you improve faster once you begin learning the actual strokes.
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