Ping pong is the classic example of a game that is easy to learn, but hard to master, as are most popular sports. While it may not seem like it on the surface, the deceptively simple game has a lot of nuance hidden underneath, with the game looking VERY different at a professional level than at a casual table.
Figuring out where to start if you want to get better can be hard, so why don’t you consider taking some of these table tennis tips and tricks to heart? Even if you don’t plan to play professionally, getting to flex on your friends is always good for a laugh.
It’s All About the Stance
This much is true of any sport, but having proper form and balance is absolutely key to playing good ping pong.
You know how a boxer or martial artist always has some kind of distinct stance they take before a fight? It varies by the style (a boxing stance is different from a karate stance is different from a judo stance), but they all have something in common: they promote ease of movement for the fighter, allowing them to instantly react to opponent’s attacks and launch their own from a stable position.
Believe it or not, the same is true for ping pong, and in fact most sports. You want to straddle that line between being stable and being ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice. Not rooted to the ground, but not so loose that you’ll fall over while reaching for a ball that went a little far.
This goes hand in hand with knowing your “ready position”, the spot you choose that make you feel most comfortable to receive the ball. For most people, this will be roughly center table, since that give you the most coverage. This is your home, your sanctuary. This is the spot the opponent can’t afford to just unthinkingly send the ball toward, leaving you free to “roam”, returning balls sent to the fringes and then returning YOURSELF back to your ready position.
Consciously think about this when practicing, and you’ll find yourself getting better in no time. Learning how to keep moving without being caught out is a key skill for sports like this which rely on positioning and timing above all.
Spin to Win
The average amateur table tennis player probably just hits the ball however it comes to them, without thinking much about how they should hit it. It shouldn’t be the case because there is a proper way to serve the ball.
Even if your a beginner, you will eventually know that ping pong is all about the spin. This is where the deepest part of ping pong strategy comes in: managing the ball’s spin.
Whether you’re putting a spin on the ball to befuddle an opponent or reading what kind of spin they’re putting on their own, knowing how the ball is spinning is vitally important. It changes how you play in a fundamental way.
There are four types of spin: topspin, backspin, right sidespin, and left sidespin. The theory behind how to impart and counter different types of spin is simple, but the execution is difficult. It’s all about how you place your paddle.
Hitting your ball at a forward angle (the bottom of your paddle facing the table) imparts topspin, perhaps counterintuitively making the ball curve sharply downward after crossing the net. The opposite is true for backspin, which can make your ball “float”. Both
But the true pros are the ones that can master sidespin, both how to throw and how to counter it. Combining sidespin with topspin creates killer serves which limit your opponent’s ability to react, as you must be very precise to counter even one type of spin to time; placing your paddle at essentially the opposite angle your opponent did at a split second’s notice, to cancel out the spin.
Of course, the only way to master such complex techniques is…
Practice, Practice, Practice
In general, and this goes for any sport or competitive activity, you should be practicing more than you actually play.
To that end, having a reliable training partner is key, which is why joining some kind of league or club is generally beneficial.
Practice builds muscle memory, and is a great way to try out new things; you don’t generally want to be whipping out new, untested moves in a serious match, as generally that leads only to disaster.
Likewise, the worst thing you can do in any competitive sport is think too much. If you’re thinking, you’re not moving or reacting, or at least not with the speed you could be. You want any response that comes from you to be automatic, so it’s important to train for anything you think your opponent might do in a match.
This is especially important for countering balls with spin, as you need to read the way your opponent is spinning the ball (look at their hand placement; it will be the same as if you’re performing the spin), register it, and then react accordingly by canceling out the spin properly as the ball comes at you.
All of these things need to be registered extremely fast; you’re working with balls that are moving at 70, 80, even over 100 miles per hour, some with revolutions per second of above 150! You don’t have time to think, so your muscles need to do the thinking for you.
The only way to train to be a champ is to know your weaknesses, follow a training plan, and just go through it 100% intensity.
Hit the Ball Low
This last bit may sound simple compared to the other bits of advice, but it’s worth saying: hit the ball as low and as close to the net as you can get it on average. Lobbing has its place, but for the most part hitting near the net is best. Why? Your opponent has minimum time to react, and maximum distance they need to move to return the ball.
Now get out there and start hitting some balls around!