Thank you to the experts at Andro and Tibhar for sharing expert answers to the most frequently asked questions about sponge hardness.

Why does sponge hardness matter?

  The hardness of the sponge affects spin, speed, control, and feeling. Each hardness of sponge will have different features than the other ones. In general, you can say the softer a rubber, the slower it is and the more control it has. And the harder a rubber, the faster it is with less control. This is why softer rubbers are a bit easier to play with, especially for beginners, while harder rubbers are often chosen by professional or high-level players.

  When it comes to choosing a rubber, the hardness of the sponge plays a very important role because it will have different consequences on your game depending on the degree of its hardness. The choice of the hardness depends on your playing level. If you are an experienced player, you can use a harder sponge because you have the ability to use its full potential.

What is the difference in performance from a rubber that has soft sponge, medium sponge or hard sponge?

: A soft sponge will give its best already at slow speed. Due to its softness, the ball will penetrate the sponge even at slow speed. The result in return will be a catapult effect, generating speed and spin. The second positive characteristics of this sponge is that the player will really feel the ball diving through the rubber, hitting the blade. Some people say that the blade is an extension of your hand. So the more direct you feel the ball hitting the blade through a soft rubber, the better the feeling and control is. Soft sponge usually has a limit in terms of speed. Even if you hit the ball with a lot of power, the sponge is not able to generate more and more speed by itself. 

A medium hard sponge allows a lot of things. It will keep good control and will give slightly more power at the same time compared to the soft sponge. It is a compromise of advantages/disadvantages of a soft or a hard sponge.

A hard sponge will give its best, especially with strong strokes. To activate its big energy reserve, the player needs to hit the ball with power, and then the sponge will give back a huge catapult effect. On the other hand, the player needs a good technique in order to keep a bit of control. A hard sponge has absolutely no speed limit. It is totally up to you and your arm speed level.

: If you use a softer sponge, you can generate more rotation and a curved ball trajectory, at the same time you keep a good control over your game. With a harder sponge, the ball does not have as much potential to penetrate the rubber, resulting (based on your technique) in a higher catapult effect. With a harder sponge and the resulting shorter ball-bat contact-time, you can exercise more pressure. A medium hard sponge binds the above characteristics in one sponge. A softer sponge is spinnier, a harder sponge is catapult friendlier.

Why would I as a player choose a harder or softer sponge?

: A soft sponge is more control and feeling oriented. It suits beginners through middle-class players who have a small ASL (Arm Speed Level ).  A medium sponge suits allrounders and players of almost every level who like to „play „ with the ball and the opponent, but who also like to place powerful strokes from time to time. A hard sponge is made for aggressive, well educated, high-level players who are trying to win the point quickly with powerful strokes. A strong technique is required. This is the sponge which, when well used, brings the most power to the player. But you need a certain power in your stroke to activate this energy.

: If your preference goes towards putting your opponent under pressure from different distances, a harder sponge is the right choice for you. It does not matter which type of game you are playing (i.e. topspin, block strokes); with a harder sponge and the right tactical technique, you can generate more catapult and spin. A softer sponge is suited to players who like to keep the control and generate a lot of spin near the table. The softer sponge is very well suited for you if you want to put your opponent under pressure with spinny topspins and precise block strokes.

What is the most important consideration for which kind of sponge hardness I should use?

: A player must learn to know himself. He should start by asking himself 3 questions:

  1. With which sponge hardness I make fewer mistakes?
  2. With which sponge hardness are my strong strokes the most effective?
  3. With which sponge hardness do I feel the best?

When a player has the answer to those 3 questions, he is much closer to choosing the perfect rubber for his style.

: When you are dealing with the question of choosing between different sponge hardness, you should always ask yourselves, what is your playing level? Which tactical game am I focusing on? Where are my strengths and weaknesses?  As a beginner in table tennis sports, a softer sponge is best adapted to your game; this rule also applies to players who are focusing on rotation and control.

If you are an experienced player and you already possess good techniques and have regular training sessions, then you are able to execute spinny and fast strokes even if you are using a harder sponge. The harder sponge opens the road to so many more different possibilities in your game.

How should my choice of sponge hardness be affected by my style of play, how far back I stand from the table, what type of rubber I use (smooth, short pips, long pips), and my level of experience, or other factors? 

: All these questions are related to point 4 above. Once more, it is a question of“ how do I feel myself confident and comfortable?“. On the other hand, there is a group of players that are able to take an analytical view of their material. They do not care so much about habits. Their mind can accept changing the material pending on the circumstances. For example, some top players have 2 different blades: one is a bit faster and one has a bit more control. They choose between the blades by the ball which is used. If they think that a certain ball is slower, they use the faster blade.
Same with the rubbers: They decide sometimes to use a softer sponge if the playing hall is small and feels fast. By using a softer sponge they can improve their ball control. And if they play in a huge hall that usually feels slower, they use harder rubbers to have more power. But this, of course, applies to only a very small group of top players.

: The question regarding your playing style is very important because the choice of the sponge hardness is decisive when it comes to making the most out of your own game. The distance to the table plays an important role too because with harder sponges you can put enough pressure on your opponent with increased distances. The rubber to choose depends on your playing technique, whether your preference goes to realizing spin or realizing pressure. A softer sponge will generate more rotation and a harder sponge more pressure. Your level is another important aspect in your choice; as a beginner, your choice should go towards softer rubbers with a lot of control and as time goes by and you acquire more experience you can change to harder sponges. The time spent in training is very important of course. In order to use the full potential of a harder sponge, several training sessions per week are necessary. With less time to train, a softer sponge is easier to control.