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15 Unwritten Table Tennis Rules That You Should Know

In table tennis, there are official rules and non-official unwritten rules. You can easily find the official rules and regulations in the ITTF’s Handbook. Here you can download and learn the latest table tennis rules from ITTF (International Table Tennis Federations).

ITTF Table Tennis Rules Handbook
ITTF Table Tennis Rules Handbook

But how about unwritten rules?

These unwritten laws are widely accepted because it ensures the fair play, the good sportsmanship in table tennis (“etiquette rules in table tennis”).

These are the unwritten table tennis laws that you should know!

Etiquette Rules in Table Tennis

1. Serve announces the score:

If there is not the umpire, the server should announce loudly the score before serving. For example, you say “3-4” and then serve (3 is your score, and 4 is the opponent score). Always announce the server’s score first. This will avoid any dispute or bad sportsmanship (score cheater) about the score.

2. Responsible for the “edge ball”

Each player is responsible for calling for the “edge ball” even with or without an umpire. Don’t rely on the umpire. Because it’s very difficult for the umpire to determine the “edge ball”. That’s the player at his side is the best to determine that the ball touches the table or not. If the ball touches your side, be honest. Because you are the closest to the ball, and you are the only one who can hear the touch sound.

3. Fairplay first, Umpire after

If there is a dispute, a debate between the two players, try to resolve it with your opponent fist. The perfect table tennis match is the match without the umpire. If this is not possible, ask for an umpire. Be Fairplay!

Timo Boll is the fairplay sportmanship example in table tennis
Timo Boll is the Fairplay sportsmanship example in table tennis

4. The spectator is only “spectator”

Spectators should not be involved in the match. They are not welcomed to give their opinion about whether a ball was good or not. Even if the umpire has made the wrong decision.

5. “Let ball” or over

If a ball rolls into your court, and you feel that you lost the concentration. Immediately call a let. If you continue to play the point, you cannot call a let after the point is over.

The same law applies when the ball touches the net. You should raise your hand immediately. You can’t say “Let” after you play this ball.

6. Don’t disrupt another match

If your ball rolls onto another court next to your table, wait until the play is over before asking for your ball back. Don’t just go and pick up the ball. It could be dangerous if the players didn’t know your presence. You can also disrupt an important point.

In some tournaments in France, I watch that some amateur players didn’t wait for the point is over. They just stop the rallies on another table and say “Ball! Ball! Ball!”. Please wait for a little!

If there are barriers on the sides, let them get the ball for you.

The Unwritten Rules in Table Tennis
The Unwritten Rules in Table Tennis

 7. Shake hand to respect

Shake hands with your opponent after the match. Even you lose badly or you have the disagreements before the game. Please do shake-hand! The match is over! Shakehand to show respect to the opponent, and also respect yourself.

Nowadays, even at the professional levels, some top players avoided shaking hand. Watch the match between Simon Gauzy and Shibaev. They refused to shakehand or just did the shake hand in the “weird” way.

Simon Gauzy and Shibaev, refuse to shake hand, a bad example in table tennis
Simon Gauzy and Shibaev, refuse to shakehand, a bad example in table tennis

8. Don’t walk behind the player

Avoid walking behind players when a point is in progress. This is very dangerous. You not only disrupt the point but also can make a severe accident. I’ve seen a player who gets the racket hit to her nose. She was hospitalized later.

9. Don’t cheer for error

Spectators should feel free to applaud or cheer for winning shots. But don’t cheer when a player makes an error. It’s not cool at all.

At same amateur league, I’ve seen some peoples cheers when the opponent makes a simple error. It’s not forbidden, but this act is not professional, and not sportsmanship.

Don’t “cho” or “cho-lei” when your opponent misses a serve, or when you get a net or edge. It’s the bad-manner cheers.

The meaning of "Cho-le" in table tennis

Watch video above ☝.


10. A mercy point

When you lead a game 10-0, you try your best to give your opponent a point. It’s called as a “mercy point”. Because 11-0 is too rude, but 11-1 is just normal :).

11. Turn off Flash in your iPhone

If you want to take the photo of a match. Please turn off the sound and the Flash.

12. Silence

Don’t talk loud across or near a court where a match is being played. I’ve seen a match between Ovtcharov and Oh Seung Eun. A mommy has let her child run around the court and cry. It’s so annoying.

13. Apologies

Apologize for nets, edges or shots off your hand or bat edge. It’s not a rule, but it’s becoming the “etiquette” in table tennis.

Please note: In some Asian countries (like in Vietnam, China), they consider net-ball, edge ball is a part of the game. Apologize or not is no problem. If you play with Asian guys, may be you won’t hear the appolgy for the net ball.

Shake hand and direct look to the opponent: Respect others and Respect yourself
Shakehand and direct look to the opponent: Respect others and Respect yourself

14. Warm-ups

Don’t smash the ball or try to win the point. It’s a warm-up. Do it in the match. You and the opponent have only 2 minutes to warm up. Allow your opponent to warm up.

Smash the ball during the warm-ups is considered bad-manner.

15. Camera

Don’t walk in front of video recorders while someone is recording.

Some players set up cameras at tournaments in terrible locations, for example along narrow walkways or between training halls and right next to spectators. In this case, it can be impossible not to walk in front of the camera (as a player), and also quite obnoxious for people trying to get across the room. It’s the responsibility of whoever is recording their matches to set up their camera in the least obstructive way possible, and if they don’t they shouldn’t expect others to crawl under the lens. (from @tuxedopong)

Dimitrij Ovtcharov sometimes didn’t wait for the opponent, and rush to serve immediately
Dimitrij Ovtcharov sometimes didn’t wait for the opponent, and rush to serve immediately

—- (Updated with your comments) —-


16. Don’t rush between points

Allowing a few seconds in between points. It’s annoying when amateurs (or even some professional players) try to serve immediately after the previous point ends. That usually leads to a let and ultimately takes longer. A short mental preparation routine can go a long way for both server and receiver, and your opponent shouldn’t get away with rushing you before the point even starts. (from @tuxedopong)

17. Make sure the ball dry before serving

It’s the server’s responsibility to make sure the ball is dry, and check for cracks after a long rally. Serving with the wet ball can cause confusion to the opponent. And it’s considered as not Fairplay. (from @tuxedopong)

18. Don’t let me alone

Another unspoken rule I follow is that at the end of each game, it’s the winner’s responsibility to track down the ball. Sometimes during a tournament, the game will end with a big loop or smash, both players shake hands, write the score down and then walk away. But this can lead to abandoned balls on other courts. (from @tuxedopong)

Etiquette in Table Tennis

That’s it. This is the collection of 15 unwritten table tennis “rules” that every new player should know. People commonly abide by as a courtesy or good sportsmanship, but these are not written down anywhere. Do you have other rules to add here? Please comment below, I will update this topic.

Please share this article with the beginners in your club. [ratings]

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Table tennis coach in France since 2012, founder of pingsunday.com (the best online coaching program for table tennis players). Born in Vietnam in 1983, Ph.D. in Université Pierre Marie Curie. Read more about him.

14 thoughts on “15 Unwritten Table Tennis Rules That You Should Know”

  1. is it legal to “charge the net” and spike the ball back before it bounces on your side as long as you don’t hit the ball on your opponent’s side?

  2. As for net ball / edge ball. In Beijing, casual players apologise. However, I have also noticed other players congratulating you on the net ball “hao qiu”, but maybe just from politeness.

    I never considered it was not a part of the game.
    Would it be bad etiquette to train yourself to hit netball consistently? (a risky strategy)

  3. What about the unwritten rules of casual play?
    I’m curious to hear opinions.
    I play in China and am not fluent, so unwritten rules pose a problem for me.

    Two I can think of: 1) play hard but for fun.
    I think the idea people have is to enjoy hitting the ball hard, but not so as to win a point. They want to hit it hard repeatedly – so hit hard where the opponent can return and play within the opponents limitations (rather than hit soft and slow, or hit hard to win).
    This often confused me, as when someone smashed the ball to me I wanted to smash it back and win the point – no one explained.

    2) Don’t use side spin serves if the opponent can’t handle them (again principle of play for fun).
    Mostly for casual play top spin and underspin serves are used, but rarely sidespin. I think players can do sidespin but they don’t because it will cause complications.

    What are your thoughts?

  4. Hi Coach.
    It´s a very good and complete post.
    I also hate when a player hits the table with his hand or racket after losing a point.
    I find very unpolite to kick the ball with the feet during a match.

  5. At my last tournament I saw a player hit a volley over the table without the ball bouncing first and he won the point. The ball must bounce before hitting it. I wanted to say something, but didn’t. I guess that is the way it should go?

  6. What about a player (adult) who constantly berates them self for their poor shots, storms off around their end of the table swearing and carrying on like a child?
    Personally I find it very distracting when I play someone like this.

    • Exactly! I know many players like this. They think that they can be better if they do it.
      But now, it’s a bad image. I would talk to them personally, and explain them to stay calm, and find “pleasure” at the match.

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