I came across this picture on a poster at my local Publix grocery store. To the rest of the world it is a nice poster for a charity that is certainly doing good work with community youth programs. I see it and wonder why every time I see a portrayal of ping pong it is being played badly. Did any other shoppers notice the incorrect grip or the obsolete orange ball? Is her left hand resting on the table? I won’t even get into the questionable racket angle. Based on the evidence we can see, I’m going to go out on a limb and predict she is not using a quality racket. I don’t mean to come across as a table tennis elitist. Ping pong is fun even if you aren’t trained in the basic fundamentals. I regularly coach new players who could easily have been the model for this poster. It usually only takes one or two lessons to correct the most obvious flaws. Then it’s time to get some kind of paddle that will really enhance their newfound table tennis experience.
Sometimes I feel like it’s actually easier to recommend a racket for someone else than it is to find one for myself. Chances are pretty good that whatever I suggest for a new player will be far better than the paddles that they are used to. Still, I feel a certain responsibility to come up with a racket that they will be really happy with. I’ve come up with a few guidelines for recommending rackets for others. Some of this is for new players, but occasionally intermediate level players need some guidance as well.
- Don’t simply recommend the racket you use. There are circumstances where a player might do well with the exact paddle as yours. There’s also a chance that it could be the worst possible choice.
- Consider how long they’ve been playing. Many players have stalled in their development by getting a first racket that was too fast. A more advanced player might be in need of a faster racket.
- Be mindful of their budget. I usually say that you should be willing to spend at least $100. Most of the starter rackets that I’ve recommended have cost less than $150. I’ve even been able to come up with some excellent rackets for less than $60.
- Look at what they are currently using. Is their something about it that they like? Do they like flared handles? Do they like the weight of their racket?
- Consider what style they are trying to play. Listen to how they describe how they play and suggest equipment that will most compliment that style.
- Let them try some other rackets and get feedback about their preferences.
- Take into account how often they plan to play. If someone is only planning on playing sporadically, they will need a far more forgiving paddle than a similar player who envisions themselves training daily.
- Don’t ignore rubber thickness. I’m often surprised at how little thought is put into this. Don’t assume 2.0 thickness rubber is your best choice because it seems to be the most popular. Some players may need thinner sponge while they are learning, and some players may find that their loops improve with thicker sponge. It’s a very individual decision, but one that should not be ignored.
- Don’t recommend a blade that is too fast. You can make just about any racket fast with the right rubber and good technique. It is possible to get a blade that is too slow, but this happens far less often. Most players will do well with all around blades.
- Ask about weight preferences. Players tend to get used to the weight of the racket they typically use. The weight of the rubber can greatly affect the overall weight. Finesse players often prefer lighter rackets and hitters need the heaviest setup that they can control. I typically recommend slightly lighter than average blades for adults, and even lighter blades for children.
It’s a big responsibility to recommend a racket for someone else. They’ll be spending the money, and living with the results of their choice. Everyone has an opinion on what makes a good racket. Coaches don’t need to get overly caught up in equipment choices, but they can’t ignore them completely either. I’ve become a little bolder about making recommendations, especially when I think someone I coach could benefit from a change. Even the best advice on racket recommendations will only help so much, but getting the right racket does make table tennis more fun.