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first table tennis tournamentAuthor: Kevin James / PingPongBros.com 

Playing in your first competition can be a nerve-wracking experience for most table tennis players. Not only do you have the stress of actually competing against fellow players, but you also get to worry about whether you'll do the wrong thing and embarrass yourself in front of everybody.

Once you get used to it, nothing beats a good competition. After you've played in a few you will know the ropes and be able to concentrate on winning and enjoying yourself. To help you get to that point faster, we'll discuss what to expect and what to do and what not to do during your first few tournaments.

Remember though - the main thing is to get out there and compete - win or lose you'll be glad you did!

Two to Three Days Before the Tournament

  • Don't do too much hard exercise or training in the two or three days before a big tournament. You want to be fresh and ready to go, so keep your training light so that you aren't tired before you even start. Most of the competitive tournaments mention the table tennis balls that will be used in the match beforehand. It's best to train with the same balls to get accustomed to speed and bounce.

  • Make sure you eat well and get plenty of sleep too. Don't make any radical changes in your diet or party too hard at this point - you want everything to be as normal as possible so that you are as relaxed as possible before the big day.

  • In your first few tournaments, enter just about anything you can, cost, time and fitness permitting. You probably aren't going to win too many matches to start with, so the more events you enter, the more you'll get to play. There's nothing worse than only entering one or two events, having a great time and then wanting more but realizing you haven't entered anything else!

  • Make sure you know the location of the tournament, and double check the starting times of your events. The last thing you need is to be frantically running around a huge sports complex trying to find where the table tennis people are hiding.

  • Pack your table tennis bag the night before, and then do a quick double check on the day. This saves those last minute panics when you can't find that essential item that has mysteriously disappeared.

Tournament Day - Before Your Match

  • Give yourself plenty of time to get to the competition, and include enough time for a good warm up as well. Time has a way of getting away from you - you'd be surprised how often I've ended up going on the table for my first match stone cold because I couldn't get my act together!

  • If you are going to be there all day, make sure you have some good food to eat - you can't guarantee you'll get anything suitable at the venue. Some Gatorade or something similar for energy during play, and some complex and simple carbohydrates for when you have a bit more time to eat.

  • Once you arrive, report to the Tournament Committee at the control desk. You are usually supposed to report in 10-15 minutes before the start of the event, so don't forget to allow time for this. Check with the Tournament Committee about whether there are any tables set aside for warming up, or if not, whether you are allowed to warm up on the match tables.

  • Get in a warm up before you start your event - but don't tire yourself out before you start. Once you have got a light sweat going that should be enough. Try to finish your warm up 5-10 minutes or so before your match starts - much more than that and you might start to cool down again. Make sure you keep yourself warm after the warm up by putting on your tracksuit if necessary.

  • Don't be afraid to ask other players for a warm up - just be polite and don't take it personally if they say no - they may have already warmed up or they may not be playing for quite a while and are saving their energy. If you are a bit nervous about asking strangers to warm up then don't worry, just do some jogging on the spot and then some stretches to get your muscles ready to go. Keep track of the other beginners during the tournament, and you can ask them to warm up with you next time!

  • When warming up, try to get a table that is not next to any other matches if possible. Stick to warming up, and don't goof around or make too much noise. Take note of any matches nearby that are getting towards the end of a game or match, and stop for a little while if necessary to avoid hitting your ball onto their court. It can be very frustrating for players in a tense situation to have their match needlessly interrupted by other players who are just messing around on the next court.

  • If you are playing someone you don't know, introduce yourself before the match starts and wish them luck. You'll probably be seeing them at tournaments in the future, so it's a good idea to be friendly to everybody. If you are lucky enough to have an umpire, introduce yourself to them as well, and say your name clearly and distinctly, so the umpire will know who you are and will also have a reasonable chance of pronouncing your name correctly!

During the Match

  • When your umpire calls you to start your warm up, remember that you have only 2 minutes of hitting up. Most players will hit a forehand to forehand counter hits for a while, then backhand to backhand counter hits, and maybe a few loops each. The idea is to co-operate in hitting the ball to where the opponent knows it is going, so you both can hit as many balls as possible during the 2 minutes.

  • Don't be afraid to ask to see the rubbers that your opponent is using, you are perfectly entitled to do so. Don't grab his bat from him though, and don't put your fingers on his rubber. You have the right to examine his racket, not put greasy finger marks all over it! The same goes for your opponent looking at your bat, you must show it to him if he asks, but you do not have to allow him to touch it if you don't want to.

  • You can bring your towel onto the court with you, but remember to place it in the baskets provided at the side of the umpire. If there are no baskets to hold your towel, put it on the floor next to the umpire or under the side of the table - don't ask him to hold it for you!

  • Don't bring your water bottle onto the court. A small spill of water can be very slippery when stepped upon. Keep your water bottles outside the playing barriers, and get a drink between games.

  • When changing ends between games, leave your bat on the table. This rule is to stop players being sneaky and swapping bats without the umpire or other player noticing. Remember, changing bats are not allowed unless your first bat is damaged, and then you must get the umpire's permission.

  • You have 1 minute of rest time between games and can call one 1 minute time-out at any time during the match. You must not go more than 3 meters (or around 10 feet) away from the playing area during these breaks - no disappearing to get a drink or a snack!

  • Never ever hit, kick or punch the table or surrounds. They are expensive and can easily be ruined by rough treatment. No matter how good you get - never forget this rule.

  • When your ball goes onto somebody else's court - wait at the side of their court and raise your hand to let the umpire or players know that you are waiting to get the ball back. Let the umpire of that match (or if there is no umpire, the players themselves) call the let - it is his job to decide whether a let is necessary, not yours. Do not ever go through the barriers to get your ball from other players' court unless invited to do so either - this is considered to be very rude.

  • When you make a lucky shot, such as a net or edge, acknowledge it. Most professionals simply raise their hand or bat to do so, but you can say 'Sorry' as well, provided you say it in a sincere manner (even if you don't mean it!).

  • Don't yell out self-encouragement after every single point, or loudly congratulate yourself after every point you win. Be considerate of the players on the courts near you. Most professionals set the best example, where they wait for a very good shot or a very important point before raising the volume. The pros are playing for big money and prestige and they can still behave with sportsmanship, so make sure you can as well, no matter what level you play.

  • During the match, follow the rules and the spirit of the rules (you do know the rules, don't you?). Remember that the umpire has the final word about point of fact (he gets the final say on what actually happened, such as whether it was a let serve, or an edge ball). On close calls, you can give your opinion, and if your opponent agrees, most umpires will go along with both of you (but just remember, if the umpire is sure he is right, he doesn't have to change his mind just because the players say so!).

  • If you think an umpire is interpreting the rules incorrectly (the service rule is the most common example), you should politely ask the umpire to get the referee. The referee has the final word on what the rules mean, and is responsible for making sure the umpire is interpreting the rules correctly. Don't argue with the umpire - just let the referee do his job.

  • If you do not have an umpire and you and your opponent disagree on a close call, suggest playing a let and replaying the point. If your opponent does not agree to this, then you can either allow him to have the point or go to see the Tournament Committee and request an umpire for the rest of the match.

After the Match

  • Keep your celebrations in proportion to the match - don't go running laps around the table pumping your arms for a first round win against a beginner.

  • Shake hands after match with your opponent and your umpire. Make sure you give a sincere thank you and make eye contact - the latest trend of slapping hands while looking the other way is one to avoid.

  • Don't leave the venue straight away after a loss - check with the control desk first to make sure that you are not required to umpire one of the remaining matches. If you won - time to get ready for your next match!


That’s pretty much folks. Just remember winning or losing is part of the game. I personally play my best game when I don’t overthink. Just keep it Simple, apply your common sense and enjoy the sport.

(Kevin James is an ITTF certified coach and a sports blogger. He regularly blogs at: //medium.com/@tabletennis and PingPongBros.com


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