Every sport has its own specialized gear and jargon related to the sport, and table tennis is no different. With literally thousands of different rackets, rubbers, blades and balls out there in the market, it can be difficult for a new player to make sense of all the choices available. Even veteran players like myself can't possibly keep up with the constant stream of new equipment that is entering the marketplace every year.
Furthermore, table tennis is one of the most equipment dependent sports around at the higher levels of competition - due to the extreme effect that spinning the ball has on the way the game is played. While anybody can pick up a couple of cheap paddles and have some fun in their family living room, cheap equipment just won't make the grade past the beginner level of play. And to make matters worse, for someone used to a cheap paddle, upgrading to a more expensive and responsive paddle can actually make you play worse, since you will be more affected by your opponent's spin!
While making sense of the overwhelming number of equipment options can seem impossible to new player, fortunately things aren't quite that bad. While there are literally thousand of different types of table tennis equipment to choose from, they can be grouped into a handful of categories. Within each category, there are a few popular choices for beginners and advanced players alike, and if you begin with these popular brands and models, you can't go far wrong. As you continue to play and grow in experience, you'll be able to try new types of equipment, and you can then compare them to the equipment that you are familiar with.
In this Equipment section of the Guide, I'll explain the basics about each type of table tennis equipment, and make some general recommendations on what to buy based on my many years of experience in competitive table tennis. I'll tell you what to look for, what to avoid, and where to find the equipment you need. After reading the Equipment section, you'll be well prepared to go out and buy table tennis gear to suit your own style of game.
Here's the different equipment types I'll be covering in the Equipment section of the Guide:
First on the list of essential equipment is a table tennis racket. I'll discuss the components of a racket (rubbers and blades), what types of rubbers and blades are available, how to choose your first racket, how to clean and protect your paddle, whether to buy pre-made (fully assembled rackets) or rubbers and blades separately, and how to assemble a racket yourself (don't worry, it's not that hard!). I'll also recommend some good rackets, rubbers and blades for beginner and advanced players.
A table tennis table is also a must to play the sport, although not everybody needs to buy a table of their own for home use. I'll explain what to look for when buying a table tennis table, how to look after and maintain your table, and even whether it's a good idea to build a table of your own from scratch! I'll also include some reviews of the various tables I have played on over the years, and provide some general recommendations on various brands.
Of course, a table tennis table is still kind of incomplete without a net. Thankfully, the essentials of what makes a good table tennis net are quite simple, and there a plenty of good nets available these days for a reasonable price. I'll explain what to look for in a quality net, as well as a few tips on what to watch out for when buying a net of your own.
Table tennis balls are a bit of a contentious topic these days. This is due to the ITTF's decision to phase out the traditional celluloid ball and introduce a plastic ball in its place. The current planned date for the changeover in elite competition is 1 July 2014, and if the proposed change is implemented, eventually the production of celluloid balls will be phased out completely. Players around the world are finding it difficult to get their hands on samples of the new plastic balls, but so far the limited feedback we have heard about their quality is mixed. In the meantime, I'll explain what makes up a good quality celluloid ball, discuss the ball rating system, and look at whether you need to pay top dollar to get a decent ball to play with.
Table tennis shoes are especially designed with the needs of high level competition in mind, traditionally favoring being light and grippy over the needs of comfort and support. In recent years, advances in technology have reversed this trend, and now its quite possible to get a light and grippy table tennis shoe that is both comfortable and provides adequate foot support. That said, there are still many players out there who prefer to play wearing a basic sneaker or cross training shoe. I'll discuss what you need in a good quality shoe, and provide some recommendations of my own.
If I had written this guide just a few years earlier, the subject of glue would have been a much bigger and more important topic, due to the huge impact that speed glue had on the sport. With the recent banning of speed glue, boosters and tuners, in theory the importance of glue has been reduced to finding a legal water based glue that does a good job of attaching rubbers to blades. In practice, many players are circumventing the ITTF's rules on speed gluing and boosting their rubbers, due to an inadequate rule enforcement system. Almost all top players glue their own rubbers on to their blades, and I'll show you how to do this simply and easily every time. I'll also explain what to look for in a water based glue, and to round things out I'll discuss the topic of speed glue and boosters, explaining what they are, why they were so important, and how their use has gone underground in recent years.
Table tennis robots can be very useful additions to any player's training routine, when used properly. When used improperly, they are a great way to quickly reinforce bad habits and sloppy technique. I'll explain in detail what table tennis robots do well, and what they aren't so good at. I'll also show you the best ways to get the most out of your robot, and how to avoid making critical mistakes when using them. I've had a robot of my own for over a decade, and trialled quite a number of robots over the years, and I'll share my thoughts on each one's strengths and weaknesses. I'll also discuss what to look for when purchasing a robot of your own.
I'll round things out by discussing the subject of home table tennis rooms. Playing table tennis at home can be a great way to keep in touch or improve more quickly, but unfortunately only a lucky few are able to set up their own purpose built home table tennis room. The rest of us have to make a compromise or two when playing at home (I've trained in my own garage and family room for my whole table tennis career), and I've learned a thing or two about what you really need to get a decent training experience, and what is nice to have but not essential. I'll look at what lighting you can use, how much space you really need, what flooring is acceptable, and even how you can set up your own home made backdrop to improve visibility for much less than you might think!
Finally, no discussion of equipment would be complete without talking about the best places to buy your gear. In my 25 year plus career, I started out by purchasing my equipment from trusted local dealers, who were the only source of decent gear, and who only offered a few of the bigger brands. The rise of the Internet has completely changed the landscape regarding table tennis gear, and now you can find just about any piece of equipment you want online for a reasonable price. I do almost all of my table tennis shopping online these days, and while ordering on the Internet is not completely risk free, I've yet to have a bad experience regarding missing or poor quality goods.
Since there are more online suppliers than you can poke a stick at, I'll list the distributors that I have used, and explain how to use the Internet to check the credentials of potential suppliers that you aren't sure about. However, this does not mean that you should completely ignore your local dealer these days. Many players still prefer to order their gear through their trusted dealer, and rely on the dealer's knowledge of equipment when they are looking for new gear to complement their game. I'll also explain the pros and cons of using a local dealer vs ordering online.