Why I Sucked At Ping Pong
Whether that’s preparing for your first competition, or just figuring out how to beat the guys at work--this guide gives you specific points to work on that will improve your skills.
If you expect to get better without changing anything, you’ll probably end up like I did. Lucky to get it over the net, and marvelling at how my opponent seemed to have so much time and control.
These are the tips that helped me improve my game, and they work for everyone. I’ll tell you:
1) How to develop a killer serve.
2) What kind of spins are out there, how to master them, and how to return them.
3) How to choose the right paddle for your game.
4) And which training tips you can put into practice today; whether you’re training with a partner or at home by yourself.
Develop A Killer Ping Pong Serve
For me, this is an obvious starting point. In table tennis, the serve is the only skill that you control completely.
It’s all up to you. If you miss, or if you make the perfect action, your partner/opponent has nothing to do with it.
Developing your serve is something that can be done with a partner or by yourself. We’ll talk more about how to train by yourself, but for now let’s talk strategy. The strategies that you should be familiar with when it comes to having a serve that will command the game.
Topspin: Topspin serves will make the ball bounce up high off your opponent’s racket. This is a great way to create space between the ball and the table, letting you make a powerful attack on the next shot if you’re ready.
It’s also a good strategy if you like to play a faster style of game, and stand far back from the edge of the table.
Backspin: Backspin will make the ball drop down from your opponent’s bat.
If they’re not ready for it, or if they underestimate your spin, this means they’re more likely to drop the ball in the net--free point for you, my friend.
Left Spin: This bounces the ball back to your left of the table (no surprise!). If you are right-handed, that means it will be returned to your backhand.
Ping Pong Strategy 101? If you have a strong backhand, put some left spin on your serve so that your opponent plays to your strength!
Right Spin: The opposite is true for right spin. If you’ve got a big winding forehand that kills the point, give your opponent a right spinning serve and watch them lob it up into your sweet zone.
Master Every Spin in Table Tennis
If you want to get better at ping pong, you can’t just rely on one trick. Odds are, your opponent will have a strategy to handle your natural favorite shot.
Especially if you want to start trying your hand at competitive table tennis--or if you want to run the table among your friends and family--you’ll need to be familiar with each spin.
How to create each spin
Topspin Serve: Pulling your bat from low to high will create topspin.
Backspin Serve: Dragging the bat from high to low will make backspin.
Left & Right Spin: Move the bat from your right to left to create left spin. Alternately, move the bat from your left to right to create right spin.
That’s the basics. Mastering the touch is the next step. For this, there are a number of drills you can do by yourself to improve your spin and control.
For a great breakdown of how to improve your table tennis skills without a table, check this out:
Set Your Table Tennis Goal
Do you want to be the next gold medalist at the Olympics? Or do you to be the best player in your school, street or family?
Maybe you just want to learn enough that you can be competitive with your friends.
Whatever the case, it’s important to think of a clear goal and stick to it. If your goal is to enter a local competition and make it to the finals, then you will need to practice with a partner that is competitive.
If your goal is to get the basics down, then you can spend plenty of time practicing by yourself before challenging another player.
Handle the Return
Once you are comfortable with your own skills, the key is to put them to the test. It’s one thing to make your serve 50 times in a row when noone is watching--it’s another thing to do it on match point against a serious opponent.
Handling the return is the next thing you’ll want to focus on. Now that you have thought a bit about your own serve, you can put yourself in your opponent’s shoes. Which serve do they want to give me? And why?
Returning topspin: Remember, topspin will make the ball bounce higher off the racket than usual. Compensate for this by leaning the face of the racket down, and contacting the ball higher than usual. This will bring it back down into the court, nice and close to the net.
Returning backspin: The opposite of topspin, be sure to give your backspin return enough height. Tip: If your opponent gives you a few backspin serves, try ripping a topspin return close to the net. The backspin from the serve will complement your topspin, and if you pull it off he or she will think twice about doing it again!
Returning left spin: Remember why you wanted to do a left spin serve? Well, reverse the logic--if your opponent wants you to play their backhand, the first thing they will do is serve a left spin serve.
To return the ball to their forehand, angle the bat slightly to your left, and strike the ball to the right of its midline.
Returning right spin: The same holds for returning right spin, only reverse the process. Tilt your racket to the right, and strike the ball left of midline.
Choose Your Table Tennis Racket
I’ll just cover the basics here, which will be enough to get you started.
Pick Your Rubber: Ask yourself: Are you a spin or a power guy?
Table tennis paddle rubbers are measured by grip (tackiness) and firmness. If you’re a spin player, the tackier the better.
For power players, you’ll want to find a rubber that is firmer.
Pick Your Blade: The blade is the key to Power Ratings, and it is the main wooden part of the paddle. Paddles made from heavier, softer materials tend to suit defensive players.
Hard-material, thin and lightweight paddles are for the aggressors.
Grip: Comfort will be the main consideration here. You might have wondered, at one stage, how to hold a ping pong paddle.
Penhold grip? Shakehand grip?
If you don’t know, shakehand grip is how most people hold the paddle (like holding a tennis racket, with all four fingers wrapped around the grip).
Penhold grip, on the other hand, is more popular in Asian countries. It’s when you hold the racket (you guessed it) like a pen. The grip rests between your thumb and index finger, but your index finger rests on the top of the paddle:
Choosing a paddle that suits your grip is important for comfort, so keep an eye out for Flared and Straight Grip paddles when making your decision (Flared for penhold; Straight Grip for shakehand grip).
There is a lot of great information out there on this topic. One extensive post comes from our ping pong paddle buyers guide here.
Find a Fun Ping Pong Partner
This will depend slightly on your goal, but I think it’s good advice no matter the level. Table tennis is one of the most popular games in the world for one good reason: it’s fun.
Most people will recommend finding a partner that matches your skill level.
That has some truth to it--especially if you are training for competition. But I still prefer to think of it as finding a partner that matches your excitement level.
Even if you are training for competition, finding a partner that is willing to train with you 3-4 times a week is more important than setting up a tough game every other weekend. This way, training to get better at ping pong won’t be hard work; it’ll be something you always look forward to.
Which leads me to my next point…
Practice, Practice, Practice
No surprises here, but regular training will be the best way to get better at ping pong. ‘Training’ doesn’t need to be anything crazy, either.
How to Get Good at Ping Pong by Yourself
There are two popular ways for getting better at table tennis by yourself.
One is expensive, one is free (if you already have a table and bats).
The somewhat expensive way is to invest in a robot. It sounds crazy futuristic, but it isn’t--there are plenty of table tennis training robots out there, some more complex than others.
The most expensive ones go for over $2,000, while you can find some simpler models for $200 or less.
For a cool battle between table tennis legend, Timo Boll and the KUKA Robot, check this out… (you probably don’t want to challenge this robot anytime soon!):
The free way to train table tennis by yourself is to do these simple drills.
Ball Drops: Drop the ball to yourself on the table, letting it bounce and practicing your swing through.
It may sound boring and tiresome--and it will feel strange at first, believe me--but it will really help you develop the spin that you want.
When you drop the ball, it has no spin, so all the spin needs to be created by your wrist and bat. As you practice this more, you’ll find a good rhythm and the results will translate into your gameplay soon enough.
Serve Practice: This is something you don’t need a partner for. Practice hitting a specific area of the court with your serve.
Practice mastering different spins.
Practice short serves, deep serves and set challenges for
yourself to make it interesting (25 topspin serves without making a mistake!)
Watch Table Tennis: This sounds like wishful thinking, but it isn’t. Research shows that simply watching the best athletes can be beneficial for something called ‘mental imagery’.
That’s a psychology term for imagining yourself doing an action, and the experts claim that in the process your muscles actually get training! (Your mental muscles, too).
So be sure to watch the best ping pong players at work, take note of what they do that makes them good, and implement what you can the next time you get out there.
Bonus Drill: For mastering your spin, it’s important to practice really ripping and gripping it. Don’t hold back. Launch the ball into the carpet, wall, or air and watch the spin. How does it move? Which way does it bounce? Another way to do this is to spin the ball up in the air and catch it with your hand. You can feel the spin in your hand and learn a lot about how to manipulate the ball. Try it out!
How to get better at ping pong without a table
One simple way to get better without a real table is to create a makeshift ping pong table. Making your own table tennis table is actually pretty easy.
To pushing a coffee table up against a wall, there are plenty of ways to practice without a table.
Other drills that focus strictly on ball control can be a great way to improve your ping pong skills without a table, too (but let’s be honest, you can’t do them forever without getting a bit bored!).
1. Bouncing the ball from side to side; 2. Spinning the ball on your racket; AND 3. Rolling the ball from side to side over your racket are all great and easy ways to better your game without a table tennis table.
There’s no downside to being a good ping pong player. Learning how to train table tennis alone will give you something to do in your downtime, and it’ll help you surprise your colleagues when you pull out that new spin shot.
Anyone can get better at ping pong by following the advice above, but I’m curious to hear your thoughts. What is your favorite ping pong training drill, and how does it help your game?
Let us know in the comments below, and I hope you found this post useful.