There is an established culture in table tennis and a set of rules that players should follow especially in tournaments. Following this etiquette will ensure your matches go over smoothly without conflict
Obey the Rules
There’s nothing more frustrating than an opponent having an advantage over you gained by breaking the rules. Unless you are in an official tournament, most players are reluctant to “call out” their opponent for rule violations (unless they are really obvious) just to “keep the peace.” But that doesn’t mean your opponent isn’t seething inside with bad feelings. In such a case, it’s likely that your opponent will avoid playing you in the future. Don’t be “that” player who gets a bad reputation for cheating whether it’s intentional or merely because of ignorance. Here are the most commonly broken rules.
- Service Toss: The rule most often broken is when the player fails to toss the ball high enough before striking it. Simply dropping the ball or hitting it out of your hand is not acceptable and creates an unfair advantage by making it easier to generate more spin.
- Service Visibility Part 1: When tossing the ball, your body must not cover the point of contact between the ball and paddle. By hiding this contact, the server is able to disguise the serve illegally. Usually the player will leave the free arm (the one that tossed the ball) in front, covering the ball when it is struck. Please remove your free arm so the receiver can see the serve.
- Service Visibility Part 2: Once the ball is in your open palm ready to serve, it must remain ABOVE and BEHIND the edge of the table. In other words, it MUST remain visible above the table at all times. It is common for players to drop their serving hand below the table during the service motion–that is illegal and unfair.
- Nets & Edges: Nothing is a better show of sportsmanship than simply being honest. If the opponent’s shot barely nicks the table or your winning serve nicked the net, be honest about it and call a let serve or award the point to your opponent who earned it. You will be respected for your honesty. Note: The rules changed many years ago so that once a ball passes the end of the table THE POINT IS LOST–it doesn’t matter if your opponent hits it or not.
Inspecting the Opponent’s Racket
You are permitted by the rules to inspect your opponent’s racket before your match. Don’t touch the rubber on the playing surface (it’s okay to touch it at the bottom where the labeling is). Touching the surface transfers the oils on your fingers to the surface and degrades it, so many people will take offense, especially if you touch the middle or sweet spot.
If you can, just look at the rubber, don’t rub the surface. There’s not much to be gained from feeling the surface anyways. As long as you know whether it’s an inverted (smooth), anti-spin or pips-out rubber, you should be good to go.
Once a match has started, neither player can change rackets unless the racket becomes unfit for play (e.g., broken handle, rubber comes loose, etc.)
Before starting a match, it’s customary to have a structured warm-up with your opponent for 1-2 minutes ONLY. In practice situations when either player has not warmed up at all a longer warm-up is acceptable. But if players are waiting for the table then the warm-up should NEVER be longer than 10 minutes. (If no one is waiting…who cares?)
PLEASE NOTE: It’s a WARM-UP…so don’t try to “win” the point. That’s rude. If you ACCIDENTALLY mis-hit the ball off the table or to a place that your opponent wasn’t expecting it (since this is a WARM-UP), then apologize and continue the warm up routine. During a warm-up you are trying to be consistent so concentrate on feeding your opponent good balls (as your opponent should do likewise).
Block for your opponent. Undoubtedly they’ll want to warm up their loop, so you need to passively block to let them do that. If you block it back too fast or keep smashing the ball back, they can’t comfortably warm up their strokes.
Typical flow…if you watch the pros play, they generally follow a structured flow as follows:
- Forehand-to-forehand rally (30 seconds). Simply hit back and forth to your forehands (this assumes both of you are righties or lefties). These are regular counter hits, not loops.
- One player starts looping (20 seconds). One player will start looping, and the other should block passively to allow them to loop comfortably.
- Other player starts looping (20 seconds). The first player will stop looping and start to block back passively, this indicates that they’re done looping.
- Repeat steps 1-3 but with the backhand.
It’s very easy to lose track of the score and doing so can lead to unpleasant arguments. The server must announce the score at the start of each game and at the start of the second point and each subsequent point in each game. If the receiver cannot hear the server’s announcement of the score, he must ask the server to speak louder. You can’t wait until the server believes he has won the game to try to reconstruct the scoring point by point.
Apologizing for Nets and Edges
It is customary to lift your index finger as an apology when you win a point due to an accidental net or edge shot. Since the point wasn’t won due to skill, but rather luck, this is a suggested motion. Celebrating these unfortunate points will anger a lot of players.
Excessive “Cho’ing” and Shouting
Many players, including professionals, will shout in celebration. “Cho” is the most common word of celebration. While celebration is good, excessive (and excessively loud) celebration is often considered rude and distracting. Loud celebration at a tournament can be a major distraction to players in the court next to you.
Towel Breaks, Timeouts, & Advice
Each player is allowed only a single one-minute timeout per match. Likewise, the break between games should never exceed one minute.
A towel break is permitted after every six points (e.g., 1-5, 3-3, 4-8, 10-2, 9-9, etc). This is a very short break just to towel off and play must resume as soon as possible. During a towel break (or any time out situation) the racket must be left on the table.
No player may receive advice once a match has started EXCEPT from a single coach during the break between matches or the alloted one-minute time out. Spectators and team members may not give advice unless designated as the player’s coach before the match. Any kind of coaching during play of the match–verbal or otherwise–is DISTRACTING and RUDE to your opponent.
When a match is over, it is customary to shake the hands of the opponent, the umpire(s), and the opponent’s coach (as well as your own coach). This is the proper sign of respect. In less formal games a simple “fist bump” is acceptable.
During practice sessions you may “challenge” the winner at a table for the next game. Generally, players should try to only challenge opponents who are close to you in ability. But if you happen to be the better player challenged by a weaker player, be a good sport about it. Play your game but there is no reason you have to be arrogant and try to humiliate a fellow club member. If the difference in playing ability is too much, use the time as a chance to “give back” and coach the lower-level player and perhaps do some practice drills.
Setup and Teardown
It is just common courtesy for all players (unless physically handicapped) to help with setting up and tearing down the tables and barriers. If you are at the club late and it looks like play is winding down for the night, take down the net, fold up your table, and put away the barriers! If not sure where something should go, just ask!