So you are itching to get into the sport, but not sure where to start. Do you begin at home and work your way up to competition? Or should you just dive straight into the tournament and club scene?
If you are trying to decide where to begin your table tennis career, then I've got some advice that should help you pick the right starting point, depending on what your future goals are. So let's get down to it.
- Case 1: You are planning to play table tennis competitively at an advanced level as soon as possible. You are a natural competitor with a killer instinct, and you want to get into tournament play straight away - win or lose.
In this case, the choice is pretty simple - get into serious play right from the start. Find a qualified coach (click here to find a coach near you), get some lessons in the basics of ping-pong so that you don't pick up any bad habits, and get your coach to recommend a custom racket for you. Ideally, keep up the lessons, find a club near you to play at regularly (here's a list of USA clubs), and look for a training partner who is also wanting to improve his game. As a tournament and club player, you will be competing against opponents using custom equipment that provides extra speed and spin, so you need to be using a paddle that will put you on an even playing level.
Don't be afraid to dive straight into the tournament scene, but you must approach competition with the right attitude. As a newcomer to the sport, you can expect to get beaten a lot. Enjoy your tournaments, get used to the feel of competing under pressure, learn from your mistakes, and savor your successes. Then go right back into training to keep improving!
- Case 2: You've seen professional table tennis on TV or the Internet, and you'd like to be able to play the sort of strokes that they play - it's amazing what they can do with a table tennis ball! You aren't sure yet whether you want to play competitively or not, perhaps down the track when you can play at a decent standard and won't embarrass yourself.
If this is you, my advice is almost the same as in Case 1 - get serious straight away, except that I would probably advise waiting for six months to a year or so before dipping your toes into competition. That way you will have a good grasp of the basics before trying to perform under pressure, and you'll probably have more success than if you tried to play tournaments immediately. I would recommend playing at least 3-5 tournaments though, in order to get a true feel of what competitive play is all about. The first couple of tournaments can be a bit of a blur when you are still learning the ropes, so it's good to give yourself a chance to settle down and see whether competition is for you before deciding to give up on this aspect of the sport.
- Case 3: You have decided to take up table tennis as a hobby and for a bit of exercise, but you aren't really thinking of competing. You do intend to go to local clubs to socialize and play some ping-pong against players of a similar level.
In this case, I would still recommend getting a coach and some lessons, and starting with a custom racket rather than a cheap non-grippy racket. You probably don't need to worry about trying to find a training partner though, since you probably won't want to spend that much extra time training - just going to the club will probably be enough table tennis for you.
Start with a custom racket (recommended by your coach) so that you can hold your own against your club mates, who will almost exclusively be using custom equipment. Get enough lessons from your coach so that you can read simple spin, apply simple spin, and control the ball most of the time against other low level opponents at your club. That way you'll always have a few opponents at your club who you can give a decent challenge to and who will be happy to play you anytime, while there will be plenty of better players that you can look forward to trying to beat! Then if you decide that you want to improve further, you can go on and get more coaching lessons, find a training partner, and try out few tournaments.
- Case 4: You are buying (or have bought) a table tennis table for your family at home, and aren't quite sure how seriously to take things. Perhaps one of your children might get into the sport competitively, or maybe it will just remain something fun for the family to do after school, after work, or on weekends.
If everybody in your family is only going to play for fun, then it's fine to stick with cheap equipment, don't bother with any coaching, and just get out there on the table and have a blast! Then if anybody in your family changes their mind and decides that table tennis is the sport for them, you can arrange for that person to get some qualified coaching, go to clubs, get a custom racket, and get into organized competition, while the rest of the family continues to play for fun.
But what if somebody in the family has already said that they want to play seriously - should the rest of the family start the same way? That's a tricky question to answer, but I'd suggest that it would be a good idea for anyone in the family who is semi-keen on playing to get at least 6-12 coaching lessons, and a custom racket. That way they should be able to provide training partners for the enthusiast in the family, and they will be able to remain competitive against the enthusiast for a longer time, giving them more fun and more chance that they might decide to take the sport up seriously too. Only if a family member definitely doesn't want to play seriously would I say to not bother with lessons and a custom racket.