Table Tennis Etiquette

Spectator Etiquette

As someone who has played, umpired and spectated at his fair share of table tennis matches, I'm going to give some advice about how to conduct yourself as a spectator. Hopefully some of what I write here will catch on at tournaments around the place. Greg Letts (

Do's and Don'ts of Table Tennis Spectating

Do: Feel free to applaud any good shots the players make, or any great rallies that occur. The players will appreciate your encouragement. Make sure you clap for good shots by both players though!

Don't: Applaud fault serves or easy mistakes made by the player you do not want to win. It shows a lack of class and respect to that player.

Do: Shout words of encouragement to your favourite player.

Don't: Shout them in the middle of rallies - wait until the end of the point.

Don't: Boo the other player - leave that to the football and soccer fans.

Don't: Offer words of advice or try to coach a player - the player is only allowed one coach, and it's not you!

Do: Feel free to discuss the match quietly with other spectators.

Don't: Argue about it loudly where the players can hear you - they are trying to concentrate.

Do: Help out the players by chasing down balls that go off court for them.

Don't: Swap the good balls over for cheap ones that you have in your pocket!

Do: Offer your services for umpiring duty to the tournament director - provided you know the rules of course!

Don't: Try to help out the umpire by calling out your opinion on nets, edges and the score, or by calling out 'let' when another ball comes on the court. Let the umpire do his job - that's what he is there for.

Do: Turn off your mobile phone or put it on silent mode while courtside.

Don't: Answer your mobile phone courtside and conduct loud conversations while on your way outside - or even worse, while sitting in the stands!

Do: Enjoy a snack while sitting in the stands and watching the match - if the playing hall allows it.

Don't: Take the food on court, or rustle a bag of lollies as a player is about to serve - save that for the cinemas when you sit behind me like everyone else does!

Do: Take video footage or photographs of the action, provided you clear it with the tournament director.

Don't: Use a flash in the middle of points - it's very distracting for the players when that bright light suddenly comes out of nowhere in the middle of a point.

Do: Congratulate or commiserate with players when they come off the court after a match.

Don't: Subject them to a play by play description of what they should have done - give them some time to get over the match and compose themselves before talking too much to them.

Don't: Walk around behind the players during a point in progress if you can help it. Even more so if one of the players is about to serve - that is the worst time for distractions as a player.

Club Etiquette

  1. Now that the club is expanding, it is good etiquette for each member to consider pitching in and lending a hand wherever possible and not leave the running of the club to an overworked few. Ask any committee member how you can help.

  2. A place where everyone can help is the setup and takedown segments of each session.

  3. During setup, the proper etiquette is to:

    1. Arrive early enough so that you could help.

    2. If you don't know how you can help, ask one of the veterans who will be happy to show you.

    3. Do not begin play until all the tables and partitions are in place. It is discourteous to begin play while others are still setting up.

    4. Takedown and put away etiquette is a bit different. When you leave, it is discourteous to leave empty tables for the remaining players to have to put away all by themselves. Look around and see if there is any unused equipment that you could help to put away. If you fold up even one table, it will be a big help to the few tired players who remain.

    5. The club has no paid leaders. It belongs to all of us and its success depends on each of us putting in at least what we are taking out. That is both common sense... and good etiquette.


Player Etiquette

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.

1         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.

2         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.

3         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.

4      Keeping Score: It is the serve’s responsibility to call the score before serving. Doing so avoids misunderstandings. The server’s score is said first to avoid confusion. It is also a good idea to state the game score at the end of each game.

Tournament Day.

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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 track suit if necessary.

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

  9. 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.)

  10. Warming Up
    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 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 (and 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 Warm up: 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) 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.
    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 allotted 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.
    Shaking Hands
    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.
    Practice Matches
    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!