There are many factors to think about when choosing your paddle and playstyle, but none is likely to be more impactful than figuring out the “speed” of your paddle. The speed of your paddle is going to be the biggest determiner of how fast your own playstyle is, deciding the limits of your ability to take aggressive or defensive plays.
Getting a good frame of reference always helps with these things, so let’s start with the basics:
How Does Thickness Affect Play?
The quick shorthand answer is that the thicker the paddle, the faster the ball is going to move. This of course applies in reverse as well; a thinner paddle rubber will slow down the ball on impact.
This is due to simple physics. The thicker rubber gets deformed more by the ball impacting it, until the point the ball actually impacts the wood underneath. The rubber then snaps back, launching the ball forward at greater speed than it impacted, in most cases.
A thicker rubber has more room to “move” and provides a lot more rebounding force than a thinner rubber would, as most of the force would instead impart to the wood directly, and be absorbed somewhat.
Keep in mind this only applies for fairly standard plays: if you’re hitting the ball with force. A thicker rubber will actually slow down the ball if you’re instead hitting the ball softly, perhaps making it fly with less force than you intend it to.
Basically, rubber thickness affects the INTENSITY of strikes, at both extremes of the spectrum. A thicker rubber will make hard hits harder and soft hits softer.
A thinner rubber, meanwhile, is more predictable. It slows the ball down so you can more easily aim shots where you need them to; great for sneaky returns and setups.
Speed isn’t the only factor influenced by rubber thickness though, there’s one more important one: spin. A thicker rubber has more friction, meaning you can put more spin on the ball when returning or serving, leading to harder to return shots.
This goes back to the rule of thumb mentioned earlier: thicker rubbers are good for aggressive plays, and thinner rubbers for defensive ones. Thicker rubbers impart more speed and spin, while thinner rubbers help to counteract both. Being able to do remarkable ping pong tricks will depend on the construction capabilities of the paddle.
So Which One is Better?
Neither. It all comes down to your playstyle.
There are essentially three different kinds of player for any kind of competitive sport, or game in general. This applies equally to chess and card games, or even video games, as it does to table tennis, basketball, or any other sport.
These categories would be the aggressive player, the all rounder, and the defensive player. Each player would have their preferred type of ping pong racket that would go along with their playstyle.
Aggressive players aim to get the tempo at the start of the game, and keep it throughout. They take advantage of their own killer instincts and rely on greater reflexes and on the fly thinking to keep their opponents off balance, aiming to quickly defeat their opponent before they can find their own rhythm. These types of players are usually going to be disadvantaged against players at the opposite end of the spectrum, who excel in “stealing” the tempo back from the aggressor.
Most people would likely fall into the “all rounder” playstyle, with an equal focus on offense and defense. Aggressive serves combines with precise returns for a simple but flexible playstyle that works against any opponent. No distinct advantages or disadvantages save that not having a disadvantage is, in itself, a powerful advantage.
The defensive or “control” player on the other end of the spectrum excels at slowing the game down to their pace. They take aggressive serves and return them precisely, with variable force. Expert players knows that the mostly used ping pong grip for defense is the shakehand grip. The goal here isn’t to speed blitz your opponent out of the game, but slowly tire them out, set them off balance, and then simply aim a shot somewhere they have no chance to return it.
You’ll notice the game plan at both ends of the spectrum is largely the same: make your opponent play at your speed. The only difference is in choosing what that speed is, which is in large part determined by your rubber.
Let’s Talk Numbers
When talking about ping pong paddle dimensions. The average paddle thickness is going to be 2 mm flat. This thickness is perfect for the all rounder player type, as it offers good speed while retaining predictability.
Even better, this is an excellent thickness for beginners to start with, as it allows you to get a feel for the game. Once you’ve done that, you can increase or decrease speed at will. Some suggest getting started with a thinner paddle, but I believe that’s a mistake; playing at a nonstandard “setting” in any game to start with is going to artificially skew your playstyle.
Imagine trying to learn chess only by playing speed chess, or by always playing baseball with two bases; it’s not going to give you the right kind of experience you need to get better.
Only when you have the standard playstyle down with that 2 mm paddle should you really start with know the parts of the paddle and experimenting with thicker and thinner paddles.
These different thicknesses have become fairly standardized over time, thankfully, due to tournament guidelines.
Following standard serving rules, the thickest paddle you’ll be able to find is a whopping 4 mm thick…but that’s likely overkill unless you really know what you’re doing. The difference between a standard and thin paddle is a little less drastic, with some “control” paddles being 1.9 mm, or as thin as 1.5 mm; not MUCH thinner, just enough to make a difference.
A Final Note
Once you’ve chosen a paddle thickness, don’t feel you’ve been locked in. You can change things up at any time. More than that, you can change the color of the paddle rubber and even get paddles with different thicknesses on different sides to really customize your playstyle. Just take note to follow paddle thickness standards when your playing in professional games.
There’s a lot of variety here, and not really any wrong answers. As you practice and enhance your skill, aside from the benefit of losing weight in playing table tennis, you’ll be able to have a feel of what type of play suits you. So, feel free to experiment and see what fits your play style the best!