Introducing the Game of Table Tennis

a poem by Paul Butters, UK

I love Table Tennis. It is an addiction for me. Fortunately I’ve had the opportunity to play local league table tennis (mainly in Grimsby\Cleethorpes) for over thirty years. Anyone interested in playing competitively should simply ring his or her nearest league secretary. There is a place for everyone in the leagues. All you need is to be fairly mobile or flexible, with a modicum of hand-eye coordination. In our league, one of our best players (Colin Woodford) is a wheelchair user with very fast hands.

As for equipment, any decent sports clothing will do. Just no white shirts as the ball is usually white. Then of course you need a bat. Most sports shops should be able to sell you an acceptable, cheap “weapon”. Personally I prefer to go online or send a form to an equipment company such as Tees Sport or Jarvis Sports (UK). They will post you a bat of your choice. Most modern players use reverse-pimpled rubbers on an “all-round” or “attacking” blade. In other words, they tend to go for spin and speed. These rubbers usually have a layer of sponge underneath, to give extra speed. “Older” bats are covered with pimple-out rubbers, having no sponge: thus imparting much less spin but more “control” at the expense of speed. An “old” bat may indeed be suitable for the beginner to ease him or herself into the game.

This blog is not intended to be a coaching manual. Experienced players and coaches are best placed to show you how to play. Just a few pointers though. Basically there are two ways to hold the bat: the “shake hands (Western)” grip and the “penhold” grip favoured by the Chinese etc. I happen to prefer the Western version, which seems easier, but each to his or her own. So all my tips are for this Western grip.

Table tennis can be a very technical game, but essentially it’s all about imparting and controlling spin. Essentially you spin the ball by brushing it at a fine angle, at high speed. Spin may be put on the ball in four directions: upwards (called “topspin” or “loop”), downwards (“chop” or maybe “slice”), left or right. Loop tends to run up the opponent’s bat, and chop down – into the net. An ideal way to use these spins is when serving. I could write a book on the serve, but suffice to say there are almost infinite variations. Indeed you may use a “mixed spin” serve: top andside or chop and side. During a rally, however, a loop is usually employed as an attacking drive or defensive lob, whereas a chop shot is mainly used as a late defensive retrieving stroke.

The most basic of shots in table tennis are the “block” and the “push”. Often these two shots are combined or blur into one. Pushing is all about playing straight through the ball, aiming for a spot just above the net. Any spin you might put on the ball is a bonus but a bit of chop may help. When you “block” you mainly keep your bat still and cushion the ball, though against chop a gentle “jab” may be required. With both the block and push, the angle of your bat is crucial.

Against a chop from your opponent you must lay your bat back and take the ball late too, to let the spin fade away before you play it. Conversely, loop is best taken early with your bat over the ball, laid forward. Experienced players can do this with a slight flicking action. In the same way, against sidespin you need to angle your bat accordingly, i.e. if the ball is spinning from your right to your left, you must aim right.

Of course, disguising spin is a major aspect of the game, but that’s another story. The main thing is to watch your opponent very carefully. Always try to Focus on the game. Concentration is very important. “Footwork” is another aspect which is well worth developing. The main thing, however, is just to enjoy the game.

Paul Butters

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