Is Table Tennis a Real Sport Or Game? (Explained)

While thinking of table tennis, the first thought that comes is that it is generally a recreational sport. Many people are guilty of downplaying the value of this sport during arguments on forums like Quora and Reddit. We aim to break this myth.

So, is table tennis a real sport? The quick answer is- absolutely! The sport is famous; however, it is not very well understood. It is not just recreational fun or a pastime; it is an Olympic sport. Table tennis, in reality, requires outstanding skill and athleticism to master and offers actual physical and mental advantages.

It is among the toughest games that entail a vast range of rules, strategies, grips, and much more. A highly competitive sport has universal recognition. Read on as we break down all the reasons why table tennis is indeed a real sport.

Table Tennis – A Brief Overview

A Sportswoman Playing Table Tennis

Table tennis began in the Victorian era in England. Elites would play table tennis after dinner. It was originally played by piling up books in the middle of a table and hitting a golf ball with larger books. With evolving times, the sport has gained professional exposure, and it now requires the following equipment:

  • Table
  • Net
  • Paddle (also known as racket)
  • Ball

Learn More: List of Table Tennis Equipment & Accessories (Basic to Advance)

Professional table tennis requires a hard table split up by a net. Players stand opposing each other and hit a lightweight ball with a paddle across the table. This sport supports both singles and doubles played in both men’s and women’s categories.

Table tennis has rules set forth by the ITTF (International Table Tennis Federation) that must apply to all games. Here are some of the debating points of why table tennis is a real sport.

An Own Federation

Having a dedicated federation for any sport is of the utmost necessity as it lays the foundation. The International Table Tennis Federation is the governing body for all things table tennis. This federation monitors this sport and has set up all the rules and regulations that apply in every game.

Table tennis has Olympic recognition backed by the credibility of ITTF that makes it a definite international sport. The role of the ITTF comprises overseeing principles of the sport and exploring technological improvement for it.

It Is An Extremely Complicated Sport

This game encompasses many spin techniques, and the professionals will always strive to combine all of these spins in their serves to gain victory. While some may only observe a slow-moving ball regardless of the spinning. For the inexperienced eyes, it may look effortless, and one might even speculate that this whole game looks easy enough, so why is the competitor finding it so challenging to hit back?

Only a true fanatic or player can truly understand what is happening on the court. Table tennis contains so many strokes and varieties of serves that it requires proper education before one can fully comprehend its magnitude.

Mastering these strategies requires an immense amount of time and hardcore dedication. The game has all the complexity and on-screen drama, but the lack of knowledge often takes away all the attention and makes it look like a pointless sport.

Tough Training

A Table Tennis Coach Training Players

At an elite level, table tennis is a sport in the true sense of the word. Professional players need quickness, agility, extraordinary hand-eye coordination, speedy reflexes, endurance, and any other traits athletes need to play a demanding sport.

Table tennis professional players are a remarkable sight. They have strong, well-built legs, athletic core muscles, and a slightly muscular, flexible, and robust upper body.

Experiments were done to gauge the athletic ability of table tennis players, and the results may surprise you. Their oxygen output and stamina are on par with elite cyclists. Table tennis players can sprint as fast as an international sprinter.

So contrary to the impression, table tennis requires skills and characteristics, much like all those sports viewed as real sports.

A good knowledge of hand grips is another crucial part of table tennis. Gripping the paddle is no simple feat; players need proper expertise in the different types of clasps. Table tennis players clutch their paddles in numerous ways, and their grips categorize into two major groups of styles: penhold and shakehand.

  • Penhold: This hold got its term, as it resembles holding a pen. In this, the player’s middle, ring, and little fingers are curled around the paddle. This style of holding the paddle is named Chinese pen holding. Even though several players have this way of holding, their technique of play is entirely different.
  • Shakehand: This grip is like shaking someone’s hand. It is also termed as Western grip because players from Europe and America employ this style. This grip looks easy and is versatile. Players believe this technique is more comfortable than a pen hold, as it lends a wide scope of play.
  • Seemiller: This grip pays homage to Danny Seemiller, as he used this technique. To have this grip, one should position the thumb and index finger on either side of the racket while the rest of the fingers go at the bottom. This technique is to deflect the opponent and gives tremendous loops on the forehand side.

Footwork Is The Foundation

Along with the upper body and hand exercises, many fail to realize that footwork is the absolute basis of table tennis. The name of the game is being super quick on your toes. To achieve that, the top world champions focus on footwork and dedicate a tremendous amount of time to it.

Coaches know the importance of this tactic and make sure their players understand its significance. To increase their footwork, competitive players will play various shots on different parts of the table and connect the footwork between them.

It is about deftness, fast footwork, and staying light on your feet. Elite-level competitors will also cross-train in the gym to build volatile leg power, performing movements like weighted squats and weighted lunges. Table Tennis exercise requires putting more bodyweight on the hamstrings and quads.

Scoring system

Table tennis comes with its unique scoring criteria. The rules and regulations are standard, and players must follow them. A player wins first by scoring 11 points. A single game comprises of the best-played rounds in an odd number. In competition play, matches are commonly the best of five or seven games.

A player gets a point if any of these situations arise:

  • The opponent misses a valid service or return of service
  • The ball brushes anything other than the net assembly before reaching the opponent after making a service or a return
  • The ball passes over the opponent’s court or goes beyond their end line without touching their court 
  • The opponent is obstructing the ball
  • The opponent hits the ball twice in succession
  • The opponent shifts the playing surface or touches the net
  • The opponent’s free hand meets the playing surface

Health Benefits

Hardcore training and time spent on learning the various ways of the sport enable one’s body to be in top shape. That is no different for table tennis. This sport demands tough exercise and practice, hence providing various health benefits. Some of which are:

  • It helps to improve and expand mental sharpness.
  • Playing improves hand-eye coordination, and it boosts mental alertness, attention, and tactical strategy.
  • As this sport is fast-paced, it refines muscle movements, particularly in the arm and shoulder area. The extreme exertion of the game gives players twitch muscle growth.
  • A person can burn considerable calories by playing table tennis for an hour. Pondering the fact that the sport is fascinating and addictive, it can be a fun way to burn calories.

Difference between Table Tennis and Ping-Pong

These two are practically the same, and there are no crucial differences between them. The real distinction, however, is of the perceptions. Table tennis is the formal, competitive side of the sport in which people rival in leagues and tournaments across the world.

Ping-pong is an almost identical game with several variations, including beer pong. While not all may agree with these differences, the general distinction is of the perception and some rule-bending.

Is Ping-Pong Considered A Sport?

Ping-pong is meant for much more informal and social play. Rules can be adjusted in this game, and it focuses on recreational and casual play. Ping Pong was the name given to the game when gentlemen and ladies played it back in the Victorian era, but with it now being an official sport, it had to have a more formal name of table tennis.


It all comes down to the final answer, and that is yes, table tennis is an actual sport. It challenges your body extraneously, but to succeed in this sport, you need extensive brain training, too.

Despite common misconceptions, this sport is extremely hard to master and cannot be played without ample practice and education. It has all the makings of a formal and official sport worthy of Olympic recognition.

Bradley Anderson
Bradley Anderson
Bradley Anderson hails from the northwestern United States and brings nine years of professional table tennis experience to SportsDean. He began playing as a child in local table tennis leagues and continued playing through college, where he founded and coached his own players’ association, the Table Tennis Teamsters, in 2011.

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