Table tennis can be a put off for plenty of beginners because they inevitably assume that they need personal trainers. Luckily, learning how to play table tennis doesn’t involve spending a fortune to get trained by a professional, but just learn the main techniques and secrets. Once you’ve got this covered, it’s time to practice, practice, and practice!
These are the main things that a trainer would teach you, so you can just as well develop the basic skills at home. It takes practice and it will bring in some frustration every once in a while, but that’s what it takes to learn. Moreover, unless you plan to become a professional player and join competitions, improving your skills at home is the best option.
Skills Needed for Table Tennis
Just like for any other sport, you’ll need to master the basic skills before moving on to more sophisticated techniques. At first, you’ll have to determine which paddle is the best for you.
As a beginner, you may not know the difference between various models or builds, hence the necessity of some research. When you’re new, any paddle seems fine and playable with, but you want to push your game, rather than play once a month when some friends come over.
Second, you’ll need to consider the grip. The grip is by far the most important element in learning how to play this sport. It sounds like something small, but picture this – if you start with the wrong grip, it will be extremely hard to readjust later. It might be impossible to get over the beginner stage.
Last, but not least, basic strokes are standard in table tennis 101. You’ll have to focus on the main strokes, as well as the stance required for maximum efficiency and the basic serve techniques. It sounds easy, but then again, once you have these aspects covered, you’ll have to keep practicing.
Improving Your Grip
Most players would use the western grip, also known as the shake hands grip. There are obviously other grips, but they’re more sophisticated. For instance, the pen hold grip is quite common in Asian players.
There are a few different ways to hold the racket. The backhand side is one of the most common ones. You’ll basically use the shake hands grip and ensure the start of the paddle head will go comfortably in the V-shaped space between the first finger and thumb. For maximum control, the first finger should be quite parallel with the base rubber.
The forehand side is slightly different. The thump should also be kept parallel with the rubber edge. As for the three remaining fingers, they should comfortably hold the handle. This grip must be firm and make the paddle work like an arm extension. It must stay constant, so don’t make it too tight or you’ll experience pains.
As for the paddle angles, you have three options. When the paddle is perpendicular on the table, you have the neutral angle. You maintain this angle when your opponent serves because you can easily decide between a forehand or backhand stroke.
The closed angle involves having the striking surface facing downwards. It’s the angle you need when about to hit a topspin or a block stroke.
Finally, the open racket angles refer to the striking surface held upwards – ideal for backspins or push strokes.
Developing a Good Service
Learning how to serve is the second most important step after the grip.
There are a few steps to ensure a perfect service.
- Place yourself about halfway between the table edge and the net on one side – the backhand side.
- Hold the paddle at the open angle. Hold the ball with the other hand around 12 inches from the table.
- Drop the ball towards your opponent’s side. It must bounce on your side one time, then go on the other side. As you become familiar with the service, gradually go further away towards the table edge.
- Serving must be done by the edge, but starting close to the net will help you master the technique.
The legal service is the professional alternative and implies using the paddle. Keep the ball in your free hand and throw it up in the air with a vertical movement. It should go around 7 inches above your hand. Let it drop, then hit it with the paddle. It must bounce on your side before jumping to the opponent’s side.
Finally, the return is just as important. As a receiver, this is your first shot at playing the ball, so you want to start the game right. Take the ready position and return the ball based on the service depth. There are four simple strokes:
- Forehand push for a short service
- Backhand drive for a long service
- Forehand for both long and short services service
Getting the Right Tennis Table
Having your own tennis table is certainly a plus. There’s no better way to learn how to play table tennis. You’ll have to practice, but also entertain yourself at the same time.
Ping pong tables come in multiple materials and designs, not to mention their features. For an optimal performance, make sure your table measures 9 feet in length and 5 feet in width – this is the ITTF standard. As for height, it should be 2.5 feet. Small considerations are not to be overlooked either.
Double check the material to ensure it’s durable. Consider the transportation and portability – some units are foldable.
Mastering the Spin
The spin is transferred to the ball through a slight brushing movement with the paddle. The faster you do it, the more it will spin. If you hit the ball near its central point at a 90-degree angle, it will have no spin, but go further. Brushing it at a lower angle has the opposite effect.
There are three types of spin. The topspin is achieved by brushing the ball in an up and forward movement. When the ball hits the table, it doesn’t bounce too much, but just accelerate forward. When it hits the other player’s paddle, it will go upwards.
The backspin starts above the ball, so the brushing is done downwards. The effect is different from the topspin – the ball goes up and not too fast forward. As it hits the other player’s paddle, the ball will go downwards.
Finally, the sidespin involves the same technique, only with a sideways movement. The sidespin is normally mixed with a topspin or backspin, so the ball will react in one way or another.
Mastering the Loop
When learning how to play table tennis, the loop is by far one of the most popular strokes out there. For the backhand loop, you’ll have to face the play line. The forehand loop implies taking a sideways position.
For this stroke to be efficient, you’ll need to use a medium stroke. The arm must move in two directions at the same time – forward and upwards. The free arm must move towards the ball in the attempt to gain more balance.
For maximum efficiency and a good spin, use all three joints of the arm during a looping stroke. Also, push your legs into the floor to improve the energy hitting the ball.
As for the rocket angle, it must be almost closed. Don’t rush when hitting the ball, but wait for the top of its bounce. At this point, the ball must be at its highest level before starting to go down.
All in all, this stroke is most commonly used when the ball has both depth and height – or either one of them.
Mastering the Lob
Unlike other strokes, the lob is not an aggressive one. In fact, it’s the most common way to deal with recreational tennis. Whether you play with a friend or your family, the lob ensures a peaceful and continuous game.
Take a ready position. If you’re left-handed, your right foot should be in further forward than the other one. The paddle should be the same height as your knee.
As the ball approaches you, brush it vertically with a spinning movement. Given the location of the paddle, you should hit the ball at waist height. Of course, it depends on how fast it’s approaching you.
If the distance is not big enough, you might need to improvise, as you’ll have to hit the ball at a higher height. If you perform this stroke correctly, the paddle should keep moving even after hitting the ball.
The position changes when about to perform the backhand lob – keep the left foot in front if you’re left-handed. The stroke is the same, only it’s the backhand one. Brush the ball and keep the paddle moving until it reaches the same height as your head.
In the end, learning how to play table tennis is not all about watching professionals play and learning their secrets. Instead, it also implies learning the secrets and techniques behind each stroke.