Ping-pong is a game in which two or four players hit a light, hollow ball back and forth across a net stretched across the center of a table. The game is more commonly known as table tennis, reflecting its origin as an indoor modification of the sport of lawn tennis. The term ping-pong is a federally registered trademark for the game first issued to Parker Brothers, Inc., in 1901, and now owned by Escalade Sports, of Evansville, Indiana.
The purpose of the game is for each player to hit the ball in such a way that his or her opponent is unable to return the ball legally. For each such occasion, the successful player is awarded one point. The player reaching 11 points first wins the game, except that in games tied at 10 points each, one player must gain a lead of two points to be declared the winner. Official competitions usually consist of an odd number of games, of which one person must win the majority (3 games out of 5, 4 out of 7, or 5 out of 9, for example)
Anyone old enough to hold a table tennis paddle (racket) can play the game. Local, regional, national, and international competitions often have categories for boys and girls under the age of 15 (cadets) and under the age of 18 (juniors), as well as categories for men and women, with singles, doubles, and team events at most ages. USA Table Tennis currently claims to have more than 240 associate clubs with a total of more than 8,000 members in the United States. In 2000, the North American Association of Sports Economists estimated that about 38,000 people played table tennis regularly in the United States, making it the 26th most popular sport in the nation, just below badminton and just above handball. By some estimates, more than 300 million people play table tennis worldwide, with a very large fraction of that number residing in East Asia, especially China, where the sport is said to be the third most popular sport in the country.
Table tennis is generally thought to have originated in England in the 1880s. The rapidly growing popularity of lawn tennis at the time led a number of individuals to consider ways in which the sport could be imported to the indoors, allowing it to be played year around. One of the earliest versions of table tennis actually consisted of a doll-house-type, scaled down model of a tennis court, with tiny replicas of lawn tennis rackets, net, and balls. Before long, however, inventors became more imaginative and began making simplified versions of the lawn tennis model, using simply a flat table with a low net stretched across the middle, with players using small rackets and a ball made out of rubber or cork. The ball proved to be the greatest hindrance in the development of the game, since neither rubber nor cork was suitable for producing the type of bounce needed for a successful game.
A major breakthrough occurred in 1901 when a British table tennis enthusiast, James Gibb, discovered that an American novelty item, celluloid balls, were the perfect substitute for rubber and cork balls previously used in the sport. At almost the same time, an Englishman by the name of E. C. Goode decided to cover the wooden paddle used in table tennis with a dimpled rubber coating, producing a racket very similar to the one still used today. With these improvements, table tennis took off rapidly as a popular sport both in England and the United States. Players began to write, sell, and buy books about table tennis, the game spread to China and other parts of the Far East, and the first unofficial world championship was held in 1902.
The first national governing body for the sport of table tennis was created in 1921 with the founding of the Table Tennis Association in Great Britain. Five years later, an international organization, the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), was founded in Berlin by eight European nations, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, England, Germany, Hungary, Sweden and Wales. ITTF sponsored the first official world table tennis championship in the same year, 1926, with all championships being won by individuals or teams from Hungary. The men's champion was Roland Jacobi, the women's champion was Mâria Mednyânszky, and both men's and mixed doubles were also won by teams from Hungary. The ITTF continues to be the international governing board for the sport. The United States Table Tennis Association was founded in 1933, although it has since changed its name to USA Table Tennis (USATT).
Table tennis has been an Olympic sport since 1988, during which time Asian individuals and teams dominated the sport.
Rules for doubles play differ slightly from those for singles play. First, the server must make the ball strike the right-hand side of his court (the reason for the white line down the center of the table) before it passes over the net, after which it must hit the right-hand side of the receiver's court. After the first hit, players may return the ball anywhere on the table. Players on each team take turn returning the ball, and the same player can not hit the ball twice in succession. A number of rules also determine the sequence in which each individual is either server or receiver at various points in the game. Team play involves some combination of singles and doubles events, with the team winning the greater number of individual events being declared the winner of the match.
Table tennis play involves a highly sophisticated combination of strokes in which the ball can be delivered without any spin or with a number of types of spin, including backspin, topspin, sidespin, and corkscrew spin. These spins can be combined with a variety of shot styles, such as a speed drive, loop, flip, smash, chop, block, or lob. Penalty points are assessed for a variety of infractions, such as hitting the ball with any part of the racket not covered by rubber, touching the table with the hand not holding the racket, striking the ball twice in succession, or obstructing the ball with one's body or clothing.
As is often the case, table tennis players should prepare for their sport by training in the specialized skills needed in the sport itself (such as forehand and backhand shots and offensive and defensive play), but also in general physical skills, such as weight training, agility improvement, and endurance development. The level of preparation needed is generally a function of the level at which one expects to perform; with individuals who are interested primarily in a game from time to time have to be much less concerned about training and conditioning than those who play competitively at an international level.
Table tennis requires a minimum of equipment, which includes a racket and ball, a jersey, shorts, and suitable athletic shoes.
Books and articles on training and conditioning programs for table tennis strongly emphasize footwork and shot-making skills that are essential to the game. Training schedules for national teams often have players at a table practicing a variety of shots for at least two hours a day, as often as five days a week. Increasingly, table tennis coaches are emphasizing training to develop strength, agility, and endurance. A member of the United States national team, for example, is expected to do weight training three days out of the week. By contrast, a Chinese training camp places greater emphasis on fitness exercises, such as pushups, sit-ups, and rope jumping. The last of these exercises is especially important because it achieves two goals at the same time: improving one's agility and endurance. Trainers also encourage athletes to crosstrain in sports that improve their aerobic endurance, such as swimming, cycling, and running. Stretching is also an important part of most training programs because of its role in preparing one's muscles for the stresses to which they will be exposed. An overview of training for table tennis is available at http://www.usatt.org/news1/Champion_Physical_Training.pdf .
Avoiding injuries in table tennis involves not only the usual need for well-planned conditioning and training, but also alertness to environmental factors that may pose noncompetition risks to one's health and well-being.
Charyn, Jerome. Sizzling Chops and Devilish Spins: Pingpong and the Art of Staying Alive. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2002.
Geske, Klaus, and Jens Mueller. Table Tennis Tactics: Your Path to Success. Aachen, Germany: Meyer & Meyer Sport, 2010.
McAfee, Richard. Table Tennis: Steps to Success. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2009.
Pollisco, Roy R. Superior Table Tennis: The Science and Art. Seattle: CreateSpace, 2009.
“Table Tennis General Information and History of Table Tennis.” Table Tennis Links. http://www.bydewey.com/info.html (accessed January 20, 2017).
“Table Tennis Rules.” Pongworld. http://www.pongworld.com/more/rules.php (accessed January 20, 2017).
International Table Tennis Federation, Chemin de la Roche 11, 1020 Renens, Lausanne, Switzerland, 41 21 340 7090, Fax: 41 21 340 7099, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.ittf.com .
USA Table Tennis, 4065 Sinton Rd., Ste. 120, Colorado Springs, CO, 80907, (719) 866-4583, Fax: (719) 632-6071, email@example.com, http://www.usatt.org .
David E. Newton, AB, MA, EdD