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Designing a Table Tennis Facility

By Larry Thoman

This column will consist of questions that have been asked of the staff at Newgy or our replies to questions posed on the table tennis (ping pong) newsgroup, Philip Uy asked this month's questions. We encourage readers to send in your own questions. We encourage readers to send in your own questions. You may email, fax, or write us. All questions cannot be answered, but we will pick out one of them to answer in this column.


Our association is planning to build a new facility for table tennis. Your expert opinion is much needed, We are still in the blueprint stage. We are planning to put up a table with a robot, and 2 tables where our members can play.

I read an article on your website about setting up a table tennis room (Ask the Newgy Expert, May 2001 by Larry Thoman). Do the specs provided apply to us (with regards to the lighting)? How about the distance to the walls and from table to table? How high should our ceiling be?


Thanks for writing and for reading our Coaching Forum. I will start by giving you the standard for playing conditions for international play as defined by the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF):

  • 3.2.3 Playing Conditions
  • The playing space shall not be less than 14m long, 7m wide and 5m high.
  • The playing area shall be enclosed by surrounds about 75cm high, all of the same dark background color, separating it from adjacent playing areas and from spectators.
  • In World and Olympic title competitions the light intensity, measured at the height of the playing surface, shall be at least 1000 lux uniformly over the whole of the playing surface and at least 500 lux elsewhere in the playing area; in other competitions the intensity shall be at least 600 lux uniformly over the playing surface and at least 400 lux elsewhere in the playing area.
  • Where several tables are in use, the lighting level shall be the same for all of them, and the level of background lighting in the playing hall shall not be greater than the lowest level in the playing area.
  • The light source shall not be less than 5m above the floor.
  • The background shall be generally dark and shall not contain bright light sources or daylight through uncovered windows or other apertures.
  • The flooring shall not be light-colored, brightly reflecting or slippery and its surface shall not be of brick, ceramics, concrete or stone; in World and Olympic title competitions the flooring shall be of wood or of a brand and type of rollable synthetic material authorized by the ITTF.

The above would be the ideal for any table tennis court where 2 players would play. Please keep in mind that the above standards are for international play; in other words, the best players in the world. Since most courts are not designed for international play, the above standards can be relaxed to a small degree if the primary users of your courts are not international level players.

20-30 years ago when I was learning to play, the standard court in the US was defined as being 20 x 40 feet. I think this sized court would be acceptable for national level players. Regional and state level players could get by with a somewhat smaller court of perhaps 35 x 15 feet. This would also be the minimum I would consider for any official competitions and formal training. If your courts will be used only by relatively low level "ping-pongers", than even less room is required, perhaps as little as 30 x 12.

One of the things I noted when I was a developing player is that as I played and trained in better conditions, I was able to explore and develop techniques that were impossible to learn in earlier more confined spaces.

I first started playing in my friend's basement. I estimate the space to have been approximately 15 x 10 feet with an 8 foot high ceiling. I had to stay right at the end of the table. It was impossible to back away from the table to defend against hard hit shots or even use a complete backswing. Any shot that was angled off the sidelines of the table was almost always a guaranteed winner. It was impossible to use lobs in such conditions or to step out on my backhand side to use my forehand. In short, the conditions severely limited my development as a player.

My next step was to start playing in a park's community center. Their two ping pong tables were crammed into a room along with a pool table and a foosball table. I estimate the ping pong courts to have been 25 x 12 with a 12 foot high ceiling. This extra space certainly helped and I could take a full backswing, back away from the table a little, return balls angled off the sidelines, and this is where I was first exposed to a lobber. My skills increased to a large degree because many of the limitations imposed by the basement court were removed. One of the big problems with playing at the park was that the table tennis courts were not defined, so other kids and even adults would walk right through the court even while we were in the middle of playing a point! After I started playing at the park, I really didn't like playing in my friend's basement anymore.

After the park, I started playing at a formal table tennis club with 4 tables set up in a large multi-purpose room. Again, conditions improved. Here, two courts were about 34 x 14 feet, the other 2 were a little shorter at about 30 x 14, but the ceiling remained at 12 feet. Besides the increase in playing space, during our club meetings, table tennis players were the only people in the room and all of them knew not to walk through a court in the middle of play. I was exposed to a variety of playing styles and had my first experience with formal training—doing drills and exercises and getting coached. This is where my skill level really sky-rocketed. I attribute this primarily to being surrounded by others who were good players and who wanted to improve, but also the effect of the improved conditions cannot be overlooked in my development.

My last step was entering my first officially sanctioned tournament. Eight tables were set up in the middle of a gym with courts that were clearly defined by short 30 inch high barriers surrounding each table. I believe the courts were close to the required 20 x 40 feet, and of course the ceiling height was very high, probably 30 feet or more. Now I got to experience table tennis in all its glory. No more being hindered by conditions. I was amazed at the diversity of different styles. Some, like the choppers and topspin retrievers, seemed to use every inch of space within the court. I saw lob returns that, believe it or not, were almost touching the ceiling! I relished tournament conditions and soon developed to my full potential. I would always look forward to traveling to a tournament where I knew the conditions would be better than the club conditions where I spent the majority of my training time.

The point of my rather lengthy narrative being that as better conditions were presented to me, the better a table tennis player I became. It is my sincere belief that one of the primary reasons why the level of US table tennis is so low is because the basement and park conditions such as I describe above are considered the norm in America. The vast majority of US players are never exposed to club or tournament conditions, so their development is limited by their poor conditions, and they can never reach their full potentials.

Another problem in America is that there are no definite standards for a table tennis court, unlike nearly every other sport. For instance, a tennis court has very definite standards for size, minimum "run-around" room, etc., with a well-defined "space" for playing. Throughout America, the vast majority of tennis courts meet or exceed these same minimum standards.

Table tennis courts, on the other hand, seem to be placed, at least in the public sector, as a "last thought". That is, "let's get everything else placed in our building and what room we have left over, we'll use for a ping pong table". This leads to nearly every court being different, with many courts being so confined that it definitely limits the skills that can be learned on that court.

So, please, allow as much room as you can for each of your table tennis courts. Err on the size of more room than you may think is necessary. Table tennis players need every bit of room you can give them. Also don't scrimp on the lighting. Table tennis is a very visually demanding sport. Inadequate lighting and glare are the two most common complaints I hear at tournaments. Just like playing space, in almost all cases, "more is better". If you provide excellent conditions, you have the potential to develop excellent players. If you provide less than ideal conditions, you are most likely limiting the skills that players can learn using those courts.

As far as specs for your robot table, you can get by with significantly less room because the robot only needs approximately 1 foot on its end of the table. So a 20 foot long court would be adequate, a 25 foot court would be excellent. Width should be a minimum of 15 feet; 20 feet would be very good. In the rare instance that someone wants to use the robot "off the table" by placing it away from the table to simulate a chopper or lobber, for instance, the robot could temporarily be moved to one of the regular courts for such practice.

Good luck with your design project.

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