Let me guess: you play ping pong occasionally.
When you play someone else who plays occasionally, you do well.
But if you play someone who’s good, you lose. And you’d like to change that.
The good news is: it doesn’t take much to improve.
The advice below will not make you a professional table tennis player, by any means.
But it will make you better than you are now and with a bit of extra practice, you’ll soon be able to beat even pretty good players.
Getting Better At Ping Pong
We’ll take this step by step and begin with the quickest fix: getting a new racket. You’d be surprised the impact a good racket can have on your game.
Choose The Right Racket
It makes sense that the first place to start if you want to get better at ping pong is with your racket.
Getting a racket that suits your individual preferences and style of play should be top of the list for anybody that wants to improve their game.
Before buying your own racket, you need to know the rules for racket specifications. The official rules actually state that the racket can be of any size or shape, but it must be made of 85% natural wood, flat and rigid.
Generally, rackets are around 6 inches across and 10 inches long including the handle. These are the preferred dimensions for most players.
Now that you are aware of rules, you can get on to choosing your own racket.
There are a lot of individual choices to be made when it comes to selecting your racket. So, it is very difficult for us to tell you exactly which type of racket you should buy.
However, here are a few guidelines that you can use for a starting point.
Select a handle that is comfortable in your hand. Being able to hold the racket without putting unnecessary strain on your hand is important. The handle should also provide sufficient grip.
Once you are happy with a handle that suits you, there are two more big choices to make. What type of rubber is best and what thickness sponge to choose.
When deciding upon these two factors, you should keep your own style of play in mind.
For example, defensive players will want to choose a rubber type that reduces spin. On the other hand, offensive players will want one that provides enough “stick” to increase the amount of spin you can put on the ball.
The same goes for sponge thickness. A thicker sponge encourages the ball to spring off of the front of the racket more. This is advantageous for offensive players.
Now, here is your homework: think about your play style and pick a racket that will make the most of your style. If you’re not sure what to get, this is a great all-around option that doesn’t cost too much.
You may also consider getting your own table, if you really want to improve a lot. Even some of the best table tennis tables are surprisingly affordable and having your own at home means you can get in some practice whenever you have a bit of spare time.
Master Your Serve
After getting your hands on the perfect racket, you need to put it to good use if you want to become a better player.
Let us begin where the game itself starts: with the serve.
When you are serving, you have total control over the ball. It’s the only time in the game where your opponent can’t directly influence what kind of shot you play.
Therefore, it makes sense to take full advantage of the opportunity by producing the best serve you possibly can.
Here are three quick tips that you can start using to improve your ping pong serve:
- Learn to serve well from the forehand and backhand. This will stand you in good stead against a variety of opposition. Each opponent you face will be different and have varying strengths and weaknesses. By training yourself to serve with both a forehand and a backhand, you can instantly switch it up to attack the opposition’s weakness.
- Keep the ball low to the net. A higher ball over the net is easier to see and easier to attack. Practice keeping your ball as low as possible to make things difficult for the opposing player.
- Be unpredictable.You should learn as many different types of serve as you can and rotate through them during a game. Constantly varying the serve makes it very hard for your opponent to plan an effective return.
Learn Everything You Can About Spin
Topspin, backspin, sidespin, you need to study them all. You don’t only need to know how to play shots with different spin, you need to know exactly what kind of effect each spin type has on play.
Putting a spin on the ball isn’t just effective for placing the ball on different areas of the table. Putting a spin on the ball also changes the way the ball bounces off of your opponent’s racket.
If you are able to learn how different spin directions work and how to perform the shots, you can force the opposition to hit the ball exactly where you want it.
To get you started, here are some examples of how the ball bounces off of a racket as a result of different spin directions:
- Spinning the ball to the right makes it go to your opponents left. The opposite is true for left-spin.
- Backspin forces the ball downwards after striking your opponents paddle. The hope here is that it will hit the net.
- Finally, topspin can cause the opposition to hit the ball higher and long.
Armed with that information, you can go and work on all kinds of spin shots to dictate the play. Putting two directions of spin on the ball is possible when you get the hang of it.
Develop Your Strategies
It isn’t wise to go into a game and just wing it. You should have a number of different pre-planned strategies at your disposal.
Of course, you won’t know exactly which ones to use until the match has begun. You must get good at studying your opponents and learning their style as quickly as possible.
Once you have discovered patterns in their play, their strengths and their weaknesses, you can deploy the correct strategy.
It takes time to hone these game reading skills and reading the game is only half the battle. Once you have read your opponent, you need to be able to think on your feet to choose the best strategy for that moment.
Again, strategic play like this requires a lot of practice and game time.
Deploy The Correct Tactics
To execute a strategy, you need to learn various tactics that you can insert into your strategies.
We have put together a quick list of three basic tactics that you should incorporate into your playing strategies when the appropriate situation arises.
Keep Your Opponent Moving.
Challenge your opponents agility by placing shots to all different areas of the table and at various lengths. Put your opponent on the backfoot by forcing them to be quick on their feet and even quicker in their mind.
This tactic can really pay off later in a tight game. Constantly being on the move is a real challenge of fitness and as players get tired, both physically and mentally, mistakes start to creep into their game.
Vary Your Shots.
We spoke about this in the serving section, and the same applies to general play.
Become proficient with as many different shot types as you can. Continuously switch your shot selection around.
It is all about giving your opponent a feeling of uncertainty. Being unpredictable achieves that by never letting the opposing player settle and getting into their comfort zone.
The advantage in ping pong really does go to the player that can dictate the play most.
Force Your Opponent To Play Every Shot Possible.
This one is all about being consistent and making as few mistakes as possible. It sounds kind of obvious but a great deal of practice is needed for it.
By becoming an all-around solid shot maker that rarely makes mistakes, you will win a lot of matches.
If you don’t make errors that give points away for free, your opponent has to produce higher quality shots and earn those points from you. This, in turn, will force your opposition to make many more mistakes and hand you the victory.
Of course, this tactic is much easier said than done. The only way to achieve such levels of skill is to practice so much that your shots become second nature to you.
Don’t Neglect Your Fitness And Agility
It is quite easy for newer players to ignore the role that fitness plays in ping pong (or table tennis: learn the difference here).
The actual distance covered to reach the ball is rarely very far. So, it’s easy to disregard the importance of being fit.
However, ping pong is a physically taxing sport. Short, sharp and fast movements will really take it out of you over the course of a match.
As we discussed earlier, tiredness causes mistakes.
Get in the gym or out on the track and perform fitness drills that mimic the duration of points in ping pong. Interval style training, where you combine short sprint periods with short rest periods will work wonders.
The sprint periods mimic the fast action during play and the rest periods mimic the pauses between points.
On top of fitness work, agility drills can also boost your performance on the table.
Being agile gives you a greater chance of reaching even the best-placed shots.
You will find yourself returning more of your opponent’s balls and forcing them into a lot more errors as a result.
Be sure to plan some time in your regimen for 2-3 fitness and agility sessions each week. You should feel and see the benefits in just a couple of weeks, as long as you stick to the plan.
That brings us nicely on to the last point for becoming a better ping pong player: having a plan for improvement and sticking to it.
You can use all of the tips and methods outlined in this article but you really need to have a plan for each of them. A set amount of time each week should be allocated for working on a particular skill set or area of your game.
For example, you should be assigning time for fitness, time to work on your serve and time for practice matches.
Once that plan is made, stick to it for long enough to see the results. You can analyze it and adjust it as needed over time but you should always have some kind of structure and plan in place.
As the famous Benjamin Franklin quote goes, “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
With that in mind, use the tips shared here to put your own plan in place now and prepare yourself to win a whole lot more ping pong games in the future.