Basic Table Tennis Rules
(Basic Ping Pong Rules)

basic table tennis rules

Learning the basic table tennis rules will allow you to enjoy an exciting indoor sports activity!

Commonly known as ping pong, table tennis is a great game for improving hand-eye coordination and reaction times.

It’s a great game for any skill level, and it can be as intense and competitive as you’d like it to be.


RULES OF TABLE TENNIS

Object

Table tennis is a game for 2–4 players. The singles game is played with one player on each side of the table, and doubles is played with 2-player teams. Small paddles are used to hit a ping pong ball back and forth over a low net in such a way that your opponent is unable to return it.

Table

ping pong table

The table is a rectangle, 5 feet wide by 9 feet long.

It should be 2 1/2 feet high and no higher than 3 1/2 feet. The table typically has a green surface with boundary lines painted in white.

A center line splits the table in half lengthwise for doubles play.

The net is 6 inches high and is mounted on posts across the center of the table.

The playing area should extend at least 5 feet on either side of the table and at least 8 feet on both ends.

Basic Table Tennis Rules

Equipment

Each player needs a table tennis racket, also known as a ping ping paddle.

The game is played with one ping pong ball.

ping pong paddles

Table Tennis Tables

Table Tennis Paddles

Table Tennis Balls

Table Tennis Net

Game

The first player or team to reach 21 points wins the game, but the winner must have at least a 2-point lead. If the score is tied at 20-20, play continues until someone scores 2 points in a row.

Match – A match can consist of 1 game, the best of 3 games, or the best of 5 games.

Basic Table Tennis Rules

Order of Play

One player who is designated to be the Server by a coin toss puts the ball into play by serving the ball over the net to the Receiver. The time that the ball is in play is called a "rally."

In singles, the Server must first make a good serve, the Receiver must make a good return, and then players alternate hitting the ball back and forth until someone fails to make a good return.

doubles table tennis

In doubles, the Server serves, the Receiver returns it, the Server’s partner hits it, the Receiver’s partner returns it, and so on until someone fails to make a good return.

Serving

The ball is tossed up with the free hand only (without putting any spin on it) so that it’s visible at all times. 

rules of table tennis

As the ball comes down, it is hit with the paddle so that it first hits the Server’s side of the table before going over the net.

The ball must be hit on the first attempt.

On the serve, the racket must be behind the end of the table.

In doubles, the ball must touch the right-hand half of the court on the Server's side and then the diagonally-opposite court on the Receiver's side.

Basic Table Tennis Rules

Change of Service

The service passes from one player to another after every 5 points is scored.

For doubles, the service goes like this:

Player #1A (first server on team #1) serves to Player #2A (first server on team #2). Player #2A serves to Player #1B, and Player #1B serves to Player #2B. Player #2B starts the rotation over by serving to Player #1A and play continues in this manner.

If the score reaches 20-20, the serving order stays the same, but each server only gets 1 serve instead of 5.

Basic Table Tennis Rules

Service Return

The ball must be hit directly over the net and touch the opponent’s court. If the ball touches the net or its supports and lands in fair territory, it’s a good return.

The ball may not bounce twice before returning it. 

basic ping pong rules

Volleying – Hitting the ball before it has touched the table on the Receiver's side of the court is not allowed, and the Receiver loses a point.

The ball is considered out of play if it touches any object other than the net, supports, playing surface, racket, or racket hand below the wrist.

A strike is good if:

  • the racket hits the ball.
  • the ball hits the racket hand below the wrist.

A strike is NOT good if:

  • it's made with the hand.
  • it's made with a racket that has been dropped or thrown.

Basic Table Tennis Rules

Points

A player scores a point when his opponent:

  • fails to make a good serve.
  • fails to make a good return.
  • strikes the ball out of order in a doubles game.
  • touches the playing surface with his free hand while the ball is in play.
  • contacts the ball before it has passed over the end line or side lines without touching the playing surface.
  • touches the net with his racket or any part of his body.
  • moves the playing surface while the ball is in play.

Let – A let is a rally that results in no points being scored. It occurs when:

  • the ball touches the net or its supports on the serve, provided the serve is otherwise good or has been volleyed by the Receiver.
  • the Server puts the ball in play before the Receiver is ready.
  • the ball is broken during play.

Basic Table Tennis Rules

Modifications

Sometimes table tennis can be frustrating for little ones or beginners who have a hard time tracking and hitting the ball. There are some easy modifications you can make to the basic table tennis rules so that it's more fun for everyone:

Use a bigger paddle.

Use a bigger or slower moving ball like these jumbo balls which are great for beginners.

Allow the ball to hit on each side more than once.

Allow players to return a ball that hits the floor.

Jumbo ping pong balls

If players are unevenly matched, have one player hold the racket with his weaker hand.

Try hitting the ball while one of you is blindfolded.

Mark target areas on the table and earn points by hitting the ball into the those areas.

Remove the net, and just hit the ball back and forth.

Work together to see how many times you can hit the ball back and forth to each other. Try to beat your best score.

Turn any surface into a ping pong table.

Viper Portable Table Tennis Top

You can get table top courts that lay on top of any table or other type of surface.

Sportcraft Anywhere Table Tennis Set

I got one of these portable table tennis sets for Christmas. We set up a court in the hallway and played right on the floor.

If you are alone, push the table up next to a wall and hit the ball off the wall. Or even better, get a tennis table that folds in half. We had a table like this when I was a kid, and I spent hours hitting by myself. 

Stiga Insta Play Table Tennis Table
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Basic table tennis rules

Table Tennis Equipment