Social table tennis (or ping pong) has become very popular in the UK over the past few years. We have the wonderful Ping project, which gets thousands of people playing on outdoor tables in cities during the summer months.
We have growing numbers of pubs, bars and clubs with tables, inviting people to play ping pong and party at the same time. Bounce in London has proved so popular, the owners are opening a new venue in Shoreditch.
Corporations are getting in on the fun too. Having a table tennis table for your staff to play on during breaks (or any time) is the trendy thing to do.
Table tennis is in fashion!
For most people, social table tennis is just a bit of fun. Once the game is over, table tennis is forgotten. Back to the real world.
But what if you really enjoy playing and want more? You can beat your friends, family and work colleagues and you want to test your skills against better players. Now might be the time to join a table tennis club.
For many social players, joining a table tennis club can be quite a daunting experience. The players at clubs tend to have a lot more experience, better technique and take it more seriously. It can feel quite a jump up in standard. In your peer group, you may be king of the table, but when you join a club, you’re likely to be one of the weakest players.
But don’t let this put you off! Here are a few suggestions to help you make the transition from social player to club player…
1. Get the basics right
One of the great things about social table tennis is all the weird and wonderful styles. Players get away with this in social table tennis, because everyone seems to have an unconventional playing style. But at club level, being too unconventional becomes a weakness.
It’s really important to get the basics right. When I say ‘basics’, I mean things like the grip, stance, side to side movement, and core strokes like drives and pushes. If you get these right, then mastering more advanced strokes, improving your overall standard and winning more points becomes much easier.
If there is a coach at the club, ask for a few 1-to-1 lessons. If not, ask a club player for some help or watch online video tutorials. I recommend the PingSkills website – the videos are short and very easy to understand.
Alternatively, if you want a bit more hand-holding, sign-up for my beginner’s table tennis course. I cover the basics, such as grip, stance, movement and core strokes, plus examples of training drills to help you improve. The videos are very good (honest!).
2. Buy a decent bat
At this stage, you really don’t need to spend much on equipment. Proper table tennis t-shirts, shorts and shoes can all wait. But the one thing you should spend money on is a decent table tennis bat.
From my experience, social players use any old rubbish, even bats where the rubber has come unglued and is flapping about! If you want to take table tennis a bit more seriously, a half decent bat will help. You’ll be able to generate more spin and control incoming spin better.
£20-£40 will get you a decent starter bat. £40-£80 will get you a decent intermediate bat. Take a look at my guide on buying a new table tennis bat for suggestions.
3. Practice, practice, practice
Table tennis is a very fast and technical sport, with small margins of error, so the only way to get good is to practice a lot. Don’t expect to become an expert player overnight. It will take time. The good players at clubs will have been playing for many years, often decades. They weren’t born with innate table tennis talent, they have just played much more than you. So you have a lot of catching up to do.
When you have family, work and other leisure commitments, it’s not always easy to make time to practice. But practice you must! A two hour practice session per week is good. Two practice sessions is even better. Three or more practice sessions and you will improve very fast.
4. Think about tactics
One way you can compete with club players is to work on your match tactics. I’ve seen players with seemingly poor technique beat more skilled opponents simply by using better tactics.
How do improve your tactical play? Partly it’s through experience and plenty of trial and error, but this takes time. To speed up the process get some coaching or speak to advanced players about what they do.
A very good resource is Larry Hodges book Table Tennis for Thinkers. It includes tactical advice on all aspects of table tennis – service, receive, rallying, playing different styles / rubber surfaces, identifying strengths and weaknesses and much more. I highly recommend.
Finally, you need to persevere. I have seen too many social players give up too early. Had they stuck at it, they would have gradually improved and they would have become established club players.
A player’s first league season can be very tough. He or she will usually lose a lot of matches as they get used to all the different playing styles and dealing with the pressure of competitive matches. Understandably, this puts a lot of people off. Who enjoys losing all the time? But the truth is, almost all players have faced a similar experience. It’s a table tennis rite of passage. In your first league season, you will lose plenty of matches.
But so what? At this stage winning and losing really isn’t that important. Just learn from you defeats (and wins). Where are you losing points? Where are you winning points? Work on your weaknesses and develop your strengths. Keep practicing and your win percentage will improve.
Anyone can make the transition from social player to club player. You just need to get basics right, practice loads and persevere. And when you do get really good, make sure you pass on your experience and wisdom to new social players who attend your club. They will need your help!