A question I’m sometimes asked by players I coach is “should I buy a pair of table tennis shoes?”
What the player really wants to know is whether a pair of table tennis shoes will make any difference to his performance compared to a standard pair of trainers. Will table tennis shoes help him play better?
Yes, probably, maybe, it depends.
Let me explain…
My experience of table tennis shoes
I played for many years with running trainers, but eventually decided to buy some table tennis shoes a few years ago.
At first a felt a bit flashy. It seemed as though I was trying a bit too hard – taking it all a bit too seriously by wearing proper table tennis shoes.
And the honest truth is, I don’t think they made much difference to my game at all. At that stage my footwork was terrible (it still needs a lot of improvement). As my feet were so planted it didn’t really matter if I was wearing table tennis shoes or a pair of wellington boots. I simply wasn’t going to move!
But as I improved as a player and I started to move my feet more, I started to feel the benefit of having a decent pair of table tennis shoes.
Advantage of table tennis shoes
Table tennis shoes are designed to make movement easier. This means they are light, they have good grip and quite a thin sole to reduce the chance of you rolling your ankle as you move side to side.
If you have a good stance, with the weight on the front of your feet, rather than your heels, you will feel the benefit of table tennis shoes.
Moving from side to side, forwards and backwards, will feel easier than a standard pair of trainers.
When I wear my table tennis shoes now, I just feel that little bit quicker, that little bit shaper, that little bit more able to move into position to play my shots.
Disadvantage of table tennis shoes
The main disadvantage of table tennis shoes is that they don’t have much shock absorption.
As the shoes are light with thin soles, they don’t give your joints much protection.
This isn’t really an issue if you are playing on a nice taraflex or sprung wood flooring, as these surfaces will act like shock absorbers anyway.
But if you are playing on a hard wooden surface (or even concrete), your joints are likely to suffer much more.
I suffer with knee pain. I’ve had three operations on my right knee and 20+ years of overcompensating with my left knee. My knees do ache if I use table tennis shoes on hard floors.
So I don’t always wear my table tennis shoes when I play. It depends what the playing surface is. If it’s a hard surface I’d rather use my running trainers to protect my knees, even though I won’t be able to move quite as well.
Do they make any difference?
So back to the original question. Is it worth buying a pair of table tennis shoes? Will they help you play better? I think it all depends on a couple of things:
Your current ability level
If you’re a beginner with underdeveloped footwork, you’re probably not going to notice any difference. There’s no harm in buying a pair of table tennis shoes, but they are not going to transform you into a world class table tennis player!
If you’re an intermediate or advanced player, with decent footwork, then table tennis shoes will help you move better. You should be able to move quicker between shots, change direction more easily and generally feel lighter. If you can move better, you will be able to play better.
But I don’t want to overplay this. You may experience some improvement to your play but it is only going to be a marginal improvement – an extra 1%.
1% doesn’t sound much of a marginal gain, but it’s better than 0%. And you have to wear something on your feet when you play, so you may as well wear shoes which may help you play 1% better.
The other factor is the playing surface you play on most frequently. If you play on a hard surface, then table tennis shoes may not be the best option. You may actually play better with some trainers with a bit more spring.
And if you suffer any joint pain (ankles, knees, hips), table tennis shoes on a hard surface may cause you too much discomfort.
But, if you are fortunate to play on a taraflex or sprung wood floor, then table tennis shoes can help you move better and play better.
Where can you buy table tennis shoes?
Table tennis shoes cost between £30 and £100+.