Learning how to play table tennis can be frustrating at first. But once you get the hang of the basic strokes and techniques, you’ll be suprised at how quickly you can start developing your game!

It’s a fun and exciting sport that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and skill levels. Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced player, there are always ways to improve your game.

Here’s my step-by-step guide on how to play table tennis, including the equipment needed, the rules, basic and advanced techniques, strategy, and common mistakes to avoid.

About Me

About Me

Sam Hodgson - Table Tennis Guru

I’m Sam, a table tennis addict and expert. I’ve been playing table tennis since I was old enough to hold a bat, and I love helping and coaching people with their game.

I’m also a professional writer, and I’m passionate about writing well structured, information packed guides that genuinely help people.


Equipment Needed for Playing Table Tennis

Before we start playing, we need to make sure we have the necessary equipment.

The basic equipment required for playing table tennis includes a table tennis table, a table tennis ball, and a table tennis bat.

Table Tennis Table

Your table tennis table should be 9 feet long, 5 feet wide, and 30 inches high. You can either use an indoor or outdoor table – both are suitable for learning the game!

Here’s my full guide on how to choose a table tennis table.

Table Tennis Ball

Table tennis balls are usually made of plastic. Look for the 40+ symbol on your ball as these are the newest type with the correct size and materials. 

For my recomendations on balls to buy (with cheap, bulk options as well as the best quality balls), see my guide to the best table tennis balls

Table Tennis Bat

Your table tennis bat, also known as a paddle or racket, is used to hit the ball. Your bat should be made of wood and have a smooth rubber surface on both sides. The best rubbers are approved by the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) and have different levels of grip and spin. Here’s my full guide to choosing a table tennis bat, from beginner bats at great value to intermediate and advanced bats.

I also have a guide on how to take care of your table tennis bat!

Rules of Table Tennis

Table tennis is played between two players (singles) or two teams of two players each (doubles).

The aim of the game is to hit the ball over the net and onto the opponent’s side of the table, without the opponent being able to return the ball.

It’s played until one player or team reaches 11 points, with a lead of at least two points (for example, 13-11).

Your serve in table tennis can start from anywhere and go to either side of the table in a singles game. In doubles, you serve from the right diagonally to your opponent’s right side.

The ball should bounce once on the server’s table before going over the net and bouncing on the other side. The receiver should return the ball before it bounces twice on their side of the table.

If the ball touches the net during a serve and lands on the opponent’s side of the table, it is called a let serve, and the serve is replayed. If the ball touches the net during a rally and goes over, the rally continues.

There’s no second serves in table tennis, so if you miss the table or hit the net completely you lose the point.

Check out my full guide for more table tennis rules and FAQs and tips on how to serve.

And below is a quick video that demonstrates correct serving technique:

Basic Techniques in Table Tennis

To learn table tennis properly and ensure you’ve got a solid foundation to build from, it’s essential to learn the basic techniques of the game, including grips, footwork, serve, forehand stroke, and backhand stroke.


There are two main types of grips in table tennis: the shakehand grip and the penhold grip.

The shakehand grip is the most common grip and is used by most players.

The penhold grip is a grip where the racket is held between the thumb and index finger with the other fingers wrapped around the back of the racket. This grip is common among Chinese and Japanese players.

These pictures show the correct way to grip the bat for each grip style.

shakehand grip

penhold grip


Footwork is an essential aspect of table tennis as it allows you to move quickly and efficiently around the table and get better stroke technique for your shots. The basic footwork involves moving in a side-to-side motion, with your feet positioned parallel to the end of the table.


The serve is the starting point of every rally in table tennis. There are different types of serves, including the forehand serve, the backhand serve, and the pendulum serve. The aim of your serve is to make it difficult for the opponent to return the ball and to set up a good position for you to attack. Try starting out with a simple top spin serve, and a simple chop / backspin serve.

Forehand Stroke

The forehand stroke is probably the most important stroke in table tennis, and it’s most commonly a topspin shot as it’s easy to stroke upwards across the ball, cuasing it to spin downwards and have a better chance at landing on the table at speed.

Backhand Stroke

For backhand strokes, your racket is swung from back to front, making contact with the ball on the back side of the bat. The backhand stroke can be either topspin or backspin, but it’s easy to play as a backspin when you’re learning. The backhand topspin shot is more difficult than forehand as you have less control.

How to play table tennis 1

Strategy in Table Tennis

Table tennis is not just about hitting the ball back and forth; it is also about strategy. There are two main strategies in table tennis, offensive play, and defensive play.

Offensive Play

Offensive play involves taking control of the rally and attacking the opponent’s weaknesses. This strategy involves playing powerful shots with speed and topspin, putting pressure on the opponent and forcing them into making mistakes.

Defensive Play

Defensive play involves waiting for the opponent to make a mistake. It’s usually about playing shots with backspin and keeping the ball low over the net, making it difficult for the opponent to attack with a topspin. This is my favourite strategy as it drives your opponent mad!

Practice and Improvement

To improve your game in table tennis, you need to practice regularly.

Some of the best ways to practice include playing against different opponents, practicing specific shots, and watching and learning from professional players.

If you’ve got your own table, consider getting a table tennis robot as they’re great for practicing table tennis without the need for a partner. 

Common Mistakes to Avoid

When playing table tennis, there are some common mistakes that you should avoid:

  • Going too quick too soon
  • Not prioritising the basic shots and strokes
  • Using a bat that’s too fast and spinny too soon
  • Not being patient!

Table tennis is difficult at first, but once you get the hang of the basic strokes you can really start improving fast. Focusing on learning a basic topspin stroke on your forehand, and a basic backspin chop for your backhand, and you’ll be off to a flying start!


What equipment do I need to play table tennis?

To play table tennis, you will need a bat, a ball, and a table with a net. And a partner unless you want to fold the table up for solo play!

How long does a game of table tennis typically last?

A game usually lasts about 5-10 minutes. Unless you’re having really long, epic rallies!

A game of table tennis typically lasts until one player reaches 11 points, with a two-point lead.

Can table tennis be played competitively?

Yes, table tennis can be played competitively at both the amateur and professional level.

There are loads of clubs all accross the country, and table tennis is a sport in the Olympics.

Where can I play table tennis?

If you’re in the UK, Table Tennis England have a great tool for finding local table tennis tables and clubs.

Is table tennis a good form of exercise?

Yes, table tennis is a great form of exercise! It requires quick movements with is great for cardiovascular health, and improves hand-eye coordination.

Can I play table tennis alone?

Yes, if you have no friends like me, you can play table tennis alone. 

You can fold up a table so it’s half up, and this is a great way t practice by yourself. 

Or if you’re a bit more serious about it, using a table tennis robot and 50-100 balls can develop your game very quickly!