Thursday, October 05, 2023

Table Tennis - My new competitive sport

How I started Playing Ping Pong Seriously
 Like so many of you, I played ping pong as a kid on the table in the basement. I wasn't particularly good.  At one of my jobs, there was a table and I played a little more intensely. And as a parent, I installed a table on the patio and played with my kids.  My son and I played a lot.

On a family vacation about 12 years ago, my son and I entered the resort's ping pong tournament and to my delight. I finished 5th out of 50.  But the guys in front of me were not just a little better than me, they were much better. So I asked them why.  Ze answered:

"You are as good as you are going to get if you don't train". 
        "Train? What is this train of which you speak?" (Did I mention that we were speaking in French?)
"Yes, train, You've never trained. Obviously, you've never take a lesson."
        "What do you mean it's obvious? And what sort of lesson? Like a tennis lesson?"

So when I got home, I googled Ft Lauderdale table tennis lessons, made a phone call, and booked a private lesson.  It turns out in Fr Lauderdale, there is an amazing table tennis center. It's near the corner of University Blvd and Sterling Drive (more info). 


And for about half the cost of a tennis lesson, I took my first private table tennis lesson. Teresa, the lady in pink below, was (and is) my teacher and coach. Since 2012, I might have taken 20 lessons from her. I tend to do them in batches. Like I just took three lessons in three week.

The first lesson was the best. Or maybe the worst. Honestly, they're all great.  In the first lesson, it turned out that the way I held the paddle needed correcting. My approach to the backhand wasn't right if I wanted to play better. Neither was my forehand. And I wasn't standing properly.  Like many sports, to get better, I was told that I first need to start over and be a lot worse.  But for me, it's basic training and practice which is my home field and it's fun!

My Table Tennis Status today -  While the building that I live in has a table to play on, there's not many people to play with here.  A big breakthrough for me was when I found that there was a community center about 5 minutes from my home where they put out five tables three times a week for a few hours. And it's full of really good players.


There's a rotating crowd of regulars of which about 20 show up on any given day. My ping pong has gotten really good but in this crowd, , they are mostly better than me, some are much better than me. Interestingly enough, they are almost all older than me. Some are much older (BTW, I'm 65).  A lot to look forward to. 

The other big breakthrough was when I retired this year (3/2023) and rather than playing occasionally, I can play several times per week.








Only in Florida? Nope, when we travel, I look up centers and try to go play. So far, I've played in two places in DC and a ping pad center in NYC. The DC Table Tennis center is in NW and is owned by Khaleel Asgarali.  The other DC center that I visited and played at was out in Gaitherburg MD, the Maryland Table Tennis Center.   Next time I'm in Paris or London, I intend to find a place to play. (Done, had a training session with Nicolas Brocard in Paris and Eli Baraty in London. March 2024)

So ping pong is now a major activity by me. It checks all the boxes. Lots of room to improve. Lots of people to compete with. Great exercise. I can play inside in the air conditioning. The injury rate is low.  If I get good (and I have a very long way to go), there's tons of increased levels of competition to strive for. It's social enough.  And now that I'm beginning to understand the game, I can also watch it.  BTW, Youtube, Instagram etc are full of table tennis feeds. Some funny. Some beautiful. Some just amazing.  


Here's me playing. It turns out that while I think of myself as a good TT player, in the world of people who play in table tennis tournaments, I'm not so good.  
 I think I lost game 1 11-9. Here's Game 2. I think I lost it 12-10
   
 Game 3. Not so close.

   

 I have a lot of work to do if I am going to compete. 1. Increase the time and intensity of my practice. 2. Increase the intensity of how I play. 3. Build my skills. Think about:


Notes to self: Teresa's Coaching:

General

-    Watch the ball with both eyes

- Racquet grip:  finger up, some space between grip and handle, nestle palm into palm

- hit ball at peak of flight. Slightly later for top spin, slightly earlier for cut shots

- always be ready for next ball. don't admire the last shot.

- move feet, get low, get lower, move your feet, get lower, move your feet more.

- stand on the backhand side of the court. On the serve, be off the court on the backhand side.


Strokes

- start each stroke with racquet head down, finish up. Snap the wrist.

- have other hand mirror racquet hand. Stay loose but keep it's position correct

- stroke ball with lots of contact, don’t punch it or tap it

- forehand: stroke up and out. Finish forehand like a salute. Bend elbow on shot/ no straight arm. Hit going forward, not up.

- backhand, start stroke with racquet  at body so you can go out and forward


Serve

  1. have feet in exact same place every time. Left side, left leg back standing sideways. On spins, put whole body into it.

  2. For spin, use more wrist.

  3. There's a number of different serves and tons of different places to put it. When playing defensively, serve very short and look for the popup.


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