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Ping Pong Is Not "The Game of Table Tennis"

Updated: Feb 20

By Bella Xu

If you search up “ping pong definition” on Google, you’ll come across an inaccurate interpretation: the game of table tennis. Many people are unclear about the differences between ping pong and table tennis. Since it becomes quite tedious having to explain the details that separate the two games to everyone that asks, feel free to send a link to this article and save your breath. If you are one of those people currently reading this, welcome. Please sit back, relax, and enjoy this educational experience. Although table tennis and ping pong are essentially the same game and are terms used synonymously, the difference is one of perception: table tennis is an Olympic sport and ping pong is mostly referred to as just a hobby or recreational activity. In other words, while table tennis is a serious and highly competitive sport, ping pong is simply a basement or garage game for amateurs.

Naturally, table tennis and ping pong do have some very basic similarities. Firstly, both are enjoyable games and forms of exercise that are (usually) played indoors. General equipment required includes paddles, a table, and a ball. Needless to say, at least two players are needed… unless you have a wonderful Amicus robot to play with (visit today for your very own robot)! Both table tennis and ping pong can be played by anyone, regardless of age or gender; there is definitely a social aspect to both games as well. All in all, table tennis and ping pong share general characteristics that cause some confusion for those who are unfamiliar with the two games.

To clarify, yes, table tennis is an actual, competitive sport, which often comes as a surprise to people who don’t play it. Some common preconceptions about table tennis are that you don’t have to move, it isn’t tiring, and it’s an easy sport. This is most certainly not the case. Table tennis is an extremely fast-paced Olympic sport that demands some of the quickest reactions and excellent hand-eye coordination and footwork. It is a very difficult, as well as physically and mentally challenging game. Table tennis athletes spend copious amounts of time rigorously training and competing; there are many national and international tournaments and leagues in table tennis with the possibility of winning big cash prizes.

In comparison, ping pong isn’t nearly as intense as table tennis. It would be quite ludicrous to say that ping pong is costly, as you can simply buy 2 paddles plus 2 bonus ping pong balls all for about 10 bucks at a Target near you. One could certainly argue that the reward of bragging rights for winning a game of ping pong against your fellow peers is enough to bring out the inner, most extreme, competitive side of humans. However, ping pong is generally much more focused on having fun and the social aspects. In table tennis, there are plenty of strict USATT (USA Table Tennis) and ITTF (International Table Tennis Federation) rules, adding even more complexity to the sport. This includes having a legal serve, in which you need to toss the ball high enough (6 inches), not dip your hand below the table when tossing, as well as tossing the ball straight up and not sideways. I could go into all the specifics, but the 2023 ITTF rules handbook (statutes) is an impressive 250 pages long – I’m not joking, go search it up. Ping pong is no doubt much more laid back when placed side by side with table tennis.

At first glance, my mom could be mistaken for a professional table tennis player. She is typically dressed in a nice table tennis shirt with the Butterfly logo and the words “USA” on the back, wears nice table tennis shoes, and wields an Innerforce ZLC Butterfly paddle with Tenergy rubber on both sides. When she arrives at Triangle Badminton and Table Tennis Center, she flamboyantly struts up to the table, filled with confidence. Yet when my mom picks up the ball and serves, one will immediately realize that they have been fooled: it was all an illusion. The main giveaway that she doesn’t play table tennis is the way that she plays. Her feet do not leave the ground and have no signs of moving. She claims that she moves, but she simply keeps her feet glued to the ground and reaches for the ball. If it’s out of reach, then that’s that. My mother’s game level displays that of a complete amateur, supporting my argument that she does not play table tennis and does in fact play ping pong. Nevertheless, I will give it to her that she is a slightly more advanced ping pong player and is the current reigning champion among her coworkers and boss at her work. Of course, it must be emphasized again that my mother does not play table tennis and does indeed play ping pong, regardless of what she may believe.

Finally, with the differences between table tennis and ping pong explained and clarified, you can rest self-assured with the knowledge that table tennis and ping pong are not the same thing and a newfound understanding of their distinctions. If all the detailed information in the entirety of this lengthy table tennis vs. ping pong article isn’t retained by the reader, my only hope is that they at least recall that table tennis is an actual competitive, Olympic sport watched on YouTube and TV by zealous fans all around the world. Truthfully, professional table tennis athletes deserve more credit for their perseverance, impressive abilities, and creativity in such an exciting game that is also incredibly physically and mentally demanding. On the other hand, being “so good” at ping pong is not much of a flex nor a remarkable achievement. Sorry mom.

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