Can I Volley the Ball in Table Tennis or Ping-Pong?

A volley in ping-pong
Gael Marziou/flickr/CC BY 2.0

In table tennis, also known by the brand name Ping-Pong, volleying is not generally allowed. A volley is the flight of the ball before it hits the ground or table. So, volleying in table tennis would be hitting the ball back to your opponent before it hits the table in your court. Volleying in this manner is known as obstructing the ball and is considered a penalty.

There are, however, two situations in which a volley may, technically, not be illegal.

The Rules About Volleying

According to the rules of table tennis as outlined in the International Table Tennis Federation Handbook, a player may not hit the ball until it has bounced on his side of the table.

Law 2.5.8: A player obstructs the ball if he, or anything he wears or carries, touches it in play when it is above or traveling towards the playing surface, not having touched his court since last being struck by his opponent.

Law 2.10.1-Law Unless the rally is a let, a player shall score a point ... if his opponent obstructs the ball.

Volleying Costs a Point

According to these rules, when returning the ball you must wait for it to hit your side of the table first. If you hit the ball back as it is on its way toward the playing surface, your opponent scores a point. You need to let the ball bounce on the table before you hit it. If you don't wait, you lose the rally.

Besides hitting it with your paddle, you also lose the point if the ball hits your hand, arm, or anything you are wearing before it would have bounced on the table.

When a Volley Does Not Cost a Point

If the ball is not above the playing surface and/or is not traveling toward the playing surface, and you hit it or touch it—technically a volley—you win the point. In this case, if the ball wasn't touched it would have been a loss for the opponent anyway because it didn't strike the table and is sailing away from the table.

The laws of physics being valid, the ball is not going to be able to turn around in midflight and bounce on the table, so it doesn't matter that you touch it or hit it back—in a sense, volley the ball. Where your hit goes in this case also doesn't matter because you've already won the point. If your opponent manages to return it, that too is irrelevant—again, because it was already your point.

Another Type of 'Volley'

If the ball hits you or your paddle inadvertently after sailing past the table, you would get the point since the ball had gone over the end line and was heading away from the playing surface. The ball would be dead whether it hit or was hit by your paddle or not. If you returned it, the ball would still have been dead once it passed the end line without bouncing on the table.

The rules used to declare any type of volley—including unintentional volleys and those in which the ball clearly could not hit the table—as illegal, but the rules were changed several times in the 1990s before the current interpretation was adopted in 2000 to promote fairness.