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What Is Table Tennis: The Complete History And Information Guide

Table tennis often referred to as “Ping Pong”, is an Olympic sport that takes the rules of lawn or outdoor tennis and translates them to an indoor table. While it might look similar to standard tennis, the rules and style of play are completely different from what you would expect from a standard tennis game. Many people new to the game ask; “What is table tennis?”

A table tennis player is focusing on the incoming hit.

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To answer this question, we have done some digging and tons of research to help you understand some of the basics. The article aims to reveal some insight into the origins and how the sport has evolved over the last couple of centuries. Now, you will have all the knowledge for getting started in the world of table tennis.

Table Tennis: A Brief History

To understand the origins of table tennis, we have to turn the clock back to early Victorian England. To be more precise, we would look at the early 1880s. However, some reports suggest it was developed by British officers in India during their supposed occupation during the 1860s and 1870s.

Table tennis racket and ball resting on a table tennis table.

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The game aimed to serve as an after-dinner parlor to be enjoyed by some of the upper Victorians in Britain. However, it later spread and evolved into the game that we know today. The first games played, would make use of a row of books that would serve as the net we know nowadays and a cork from a bottle of champagne would be the ball. A standard cigar box lid would serve as the paddle or racket.

Why Ping Pong

As you might have heard, many people refer to table tennis as Ping Pong, and to understand this, we also need to look back at the history of the sport. While the name Ping Pong was widely used before the 20th Century, it was in 1901 that J. Jaques & Son Ltd trademarked the name, Ping Pong. The British manufacturer referred to the game as Ping Pong when their expensive equipment is used, while other manufacturers referred to it as table tennis.

It is not only in Britain that companies were split on the name. Jaques eventually sold the rights to the Parker Brothers in the United States, who similarly forced organizations to change their name to table tennis. The Parker Brothers held onto the name during the 1920s and in many cases, Ping Pong and table tennis were seen as different sports. 

The differences were so apparent that in 1910, there was both a “Ping Pong Association” and a “Table Tennis Association”.  Fortunately, the modern Table Tennis Association was formed in 1921, which later changed to the English Table Tennis Association in 1926. The first world championship was held in Britain in 1926. We should also mention that the United States Table Tennis Association was established in 1933.

Evolution Of Table Tennis Equipment

As mentioned, the first table tennis rackets were old cigar box lids and the nets were rows of books stacked on a table. However, the most controversial was the champagne cork that was considered the ball, but due to the design and the shape, it was too unpredictable when moving and bouncing around on the table.

However, in 1901, A British Innovationist and table tennis enthusiast names James W. Gibb found some celluloid balls while visiting the United States. Due to the shape and the consistency of the behavior, they were found to be much better for table tennis.  Moreover, E.C Goode, another table tennis enthusiast designed the modern version of the paddle by adding rubber to the wooden paddle in various patterns.

Table tenniss racket resting on a ping pong.

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The sport has evolved significantly over the last couple of years. Back in 1902, during the time of the first championship, lawn tennis was used for the scoring system. Nowadays, you have tons of different equipment and even some of the best table tennis equipment can be found at a budget price if you know where to look. 

Benefits Of Table Tennis

Nothing beats playing a few games of table tennis with some of your friends, or even going more professional if you are good. We have identified a couple of the main benefits associated with table tennis and this should allow you to understand what you can gain from investing some time in table tennis.

  • Improved Reflexes: Table tennis is a fast-paced game and it required you to move rapidly. It will improve agility and muscle movement. You will give you fine and large muscle improvements.
  • Hand-Eye Coordination: Table tennis required tons of concentration and it will force you to improve your hand-eye coordination over time.
  • Lose Weight/ Burn Calories: if you look at the modern era, everyone wants to lose weight. If you don’t like going to the gym, you can lose weight while playing table tennis. Experts weighing in on Reddit suggest that one can lose up to 400-calories for a standard session and 600-calories for a vigorous session.
  • Improves Social Interaction: If you don’t mesh well with other people, table tennis is a great way to meet new people. There are tons of different associations and clubs that you can join to make new friends as well.
  • Improved Balance: Obviously, you will need to move side-to-side at a rapid pace and this means you will need core stability. While playing, you will build up some core stability and this will improve overall balance, which is great for your spine as well.
  • Brain Improvement: Finally, table tennis is a mental sport just as much as it is physical. You will need to outsmart your opponent on such a small table. It can significantly improve the cognitive thinking of an individual.

These are some of the basic benefits, but when you think long-term, you have so many more benefits. As you become more professional, you can start making a living from the sport, not to mention the fame and fortune that could arise if you compete on an Olympic stage. The Olympics is the one completion every table tennis player wants to win.

Top Table Tennis Player In The World

While we don’t often discuss the top table tennis players, it is often important to look at some of these individuals. These individuals are also role models for many people. Much like Ronnie O’Sullivan is the reason some of us started playing snooker, there are many experts and professionals in the table tennis world that could encourage you.

  1. Jan-Ove Waldner 

While most people know that Fan Zhendong is currently the number one player ranked in the world, he is still young. We are looking at some of the greatest players of all time. Jan-Ove Waldner is also known as the “Evergreen Tree” and many people believe he was more popular in China during the 1990s than President Bill Clinton was in the United States. 

Jan-Ove Waldner readies himself to hit the pin pong ball.

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His career had a long span, which culminates in him winning gold at the 1992 Olympics and three more gold medals in the 1996 European Championships. His final career medal was silver in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Many people consider him the table tennis living legend. 

  1. Ma Long
Gold medalist Ma Long of China pose on the podium during the medal ceremony in 2016.

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A list will never be complete without looking at Ma Long. The Chinese player still holds the record for the longest span as the number one player in the world, which stretches from 2015 for around 30-months. During his reign, he has earned the nickname of the “ITTF Pro Tour King”, which is fitting when we look at these accomplishments.

  1. Kanak Jha
Player Kanak Jha prepares to hit the the ping-pong ball.

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When looking at table tennis players, we have to give credit to Kanak Jha, who is the number one ranked table tennis player in the United States. He is one of the best American table tennis players and has  Indian heritage as well. Born in 2000, the 16-year old performed in the 2016 Olympics while being primed to compete in the supposed 2020 Olympics.

Table Tennis In The United States

Aside from China, The United States probably has one of the biggest followings of table tennis in the world. The USATT is a non-profit organization, governs and sets up most of the competitions going on in the USA. The organization was first established back in 1933, and to date, it has more than 9,000 active members.

A player hits the ping-pong ball.

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The aim of the organization is not only to promote table tennis but also to help individuals improve and become better players. The organization offers incentives for American athletes that go to the Olympics. Individuals that manage to reach the biggest stage can earn up to $100,000 for making the team and even more for winning a medal.

There are around 19 million people in the USA that play table tennis for recreational purposes, and only 9,000 are active members of USA Table Tennis. To join the organization, there is an annual fee of $75 for adults, while the reduced fee of $45 is for students and college players. The organization is helpful for players looking to get their hands on the best table tennis equipment

Frequently Asked Questions

Understanding the history and the basics of table tennis is not everything, and there are many questions on the internet that we have decided to answer. If you are excited and interested to invest some time into table tennis, you might need to ponder some of these questions:

How To Start Playing Table Tennis

Before you start playing table tennis, you will need to make sure that you have the right equipment. The equipment is an important part, but it can be found readily from almost any online store. Once you have the right gear, we can move onto the next step.

  1. The Basics

The first thing you will need to do is focus on the grip and stance you have. You must be balanced and comfortable when you are playing. You can also add footwork to the mix and these are considered the foundations of table tennis. Once you have them down, the game should be much easier.

  1. The Stroke Types

There is a variety of different shots and strokes that you can play. The strokes are segregated into two sections, which are drive and push shots. Both of them have subsections referred to are forehand and backhand shots. You will need to understand when to play each shot and how your grip needs to be before playing. 

  1. Serving And Winning

Finally, you will need to learn some of the serving strokes and how to return strokes. Here is where you will find more advanced strokes like slicing and pushing the ball down the table. You must spend some time focusing on the serving and how to return a good serve.

How To Get Better At Table Tennis

If you are to improve your game, you will need to put some time and effort into your training. The more you train, the better your hand-eye coordination will be. Additionally, you will improve your overall game fitness, which means that you have more stamina to help you perform at a slightly better level than your untrained opponent does.

How To Find A Good Table Tennis Coach

If your training is complete and you have done everything you feel possible, you might need to invest in a coach. With the rise of social media, it is so much easier to find a good tennis coach, but you should consider looking at their credentials. Finding ex-players to coach you is often a good way to learn a new style and different shot types.

How To Play Table Tennis Alone

It is always better to have some friends when you play table tennis. However, there are methods of playing table tennis on your own. A famous movie starring Tom Hanks comes to mind when thinking of playing table tennis on your own. In the movie “Forrest Gump”, the main protagonist becomes a successful table tennis player by playing against himself with a folded table.

If you are playing against yourself, you are probably going to need to fold the table in such a manner. Alternatively, the Best Ping Pong Robots can often be used to play on your own. These robots are loaded with table tennis balls and some of the high-end options even have a remote. It allows you to practice returning specific shots and improving your reaction to shots. 

How To Play Table Tennis Safely During The COVID-19 Pandemic

The year 2020, was probably one of the worst years to hit society. The Covid-19 Pandemic changed the course of the world and forced us indoors. However, table tennis is still a sport that you can practice due to the distance between the players. Here are some tips to consider before playing Ping Pong during the pandemic.

Empty and dusty ping-pong tables due to Covid.

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  • Always keep your distance when not playing
  • Consider having yourself and your partner tested before games
  • Only enter official competitions.
  • Observe Covid rules and regulations of your state or county
  • Consider wearing a mask that allows you to breathe comfortably
  • Consider wearing gloves when toughing things.


Table tennis is one of the most underrated sports in the world, especially when asking people that do not know anything about the sport. It has similar characteristics to tennis, but the gameplay is different. Now that you understand some of the basics of table tennis and the origins, let us know in the comment section if you have any thoughts on table tennis and Covid-19.

I am Jean, a writer with a passion for outdoor life and sports. I have been playing indoor and outdoor sports for as long as I remember, being fortunate enough to play with some excellent equipment and learning from great tutors. Now, I have traded my equipment for a pen and paper, helping to encourage and educate your sports enthusiasts. I still play a few indoor sports games now and again, but my goal is to help bring more youngsters into the world of sports. More info on my LinkedIn profile -