How to Play Ping Pong: The Quick and Easy Guide

Ping pong, also known as table tennis, is a much-beloved table game around the world. In addition to providing a great source of fun, it is also good exercise for your mind and body. It’s even been proven to make you live longer! With all these benefits, who wouldn’t want to know how to play ping pong?

Ping pong paddle on table

Great photograph captured by Dustin Gaffke CC

What You Need to Play Ping Pong

To start with, you’ll need a table. Browse our selection of ping pong tables—there are plenty of options for beginners and pros alike! You’ll also need two ping pong paddles, a ball, and someone to play with. You can also play doubles if you have double the players and double the paddles.

Table Tennis Equipment

Here’s some of the equipment you’ll need to play ping pong: a ping pong table, two paddles, and a couple of ping pong balls. In this picture you can also see the dividing white line that goes right down the middle of the table from one end to the other. When you serve, you need to hit it into the opposite corner of the table on your competitors side. Photo courtesy Oswaldo

How to Play Ping Pong: The Rules

Players flip a coin, and the winner of the coin flip chooses whether to serve or receive first. The serving player must hit the ball so it bounces on their side, over the net, and onto their opponent’s side. If the serve hits the net but still goes over, it is considered a “let serve,” and the server must repeat with no penalties until the serve goes through correctly.

A point is scored when a player fails to “legally” return a ball. This is when they fail to hit the ball after it bounces on their side or if the ball bounces from their side off the ping pong table. Each player serves twice before the serve switches to the other player.

The first player to get 11 points by a margin of at least two points wins the match. That means if players are tied 10-10, one must get to twelve points to win the table tennis match. The player who wins best of five or best of seven matches is declared the overall winner.

How to Play Ping Pong: The Strokes

The basics of table tennis are the various strokes. Here’s a quick breakdown of the main strokes:

  • Serve – Toss the ball gently into the air and then hit it with the paddle so that it bounces from one corner of your side to the opposite corner on your opponent’s side.
  • Forehand – Use this swing when your opponent hits the ball to the side of the table closest to your dominant arm (which should be holding your ping pong paddle). When the ball bounces on your side of the net, hit it with the interior side of the paddle (that’s the side that lines up with your palm).
  • Backhand – This swing is useful when the ball is heading toward the side of table closest to your non-dominant arm. Reaching across your body, bounce the ball off the back of the paddle (the side that aligns with the back of your hand).

Aim to hit the ball low over the net—you don’t want it bouncing up and down in high arcs. You can also put a spin on the ball in both the forehand and backhand strokes. An underhand spin requires a gentle, downward brush-like stroke as the ball makes contact with the paddle. A topspin provides a much more offensive stroke drive by a sharper upward wrist motion.

Table Tennis Tips

Overall, the best way to get better at ping pong is to practice, practice, practice. Here are some tips to keep in mind when you start playing.

  • Shift your weight back and forth between your feet to match the rhythm of the ball
  • Bend your knees slightly, keeping your weight in the balls of your feet
  • Keep your eye on the ball
  • Relax and enjoy the game!

Related Content:

  1. Buyer’s Guide to Ping Pong Tables
  2. 5 Ways Table Tennis Makes You Live Longer
  3. 5 Things to Know Before Buying a Ping Pong Paddle
  4. The Best Sport for Your Brain