Getting hooked on table tennis
Glued to my sofa on a drab Tuesday night, having earlier consumed a kebab, I wasn’t necessarily in the market to try out a new sport.
However, my table tennis fanatic friend Junaid worked hard to convince me to come and give his game a try at a local sports club in Slough, Berkshire.
Despite my initial lack of eagerness, once we arrived I had a funny feeling in my stomach. At first I thought it might be something to do with that kebab, but it wasn’t.
It was more an adrenaline rush and a feeling of nervousness mixed with enthusiasm.
Being competitive by nature, I was filled with tension because I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of experienced players, but in hindsight that tension ensured I was motivated to have fun and try something new.
Having become an Olympic sport since 1988, table tennis has been in the limelight for many years.
Its origins go back to the 1880s as game-makers tried to emulate the popularity of lawn tennis by developing indoor versions.
“As I got to grips with the sport, I wanted a doubles match with another pairing. My competitive nature was taking over…”
The sport is simple. It is played by two players (singles) or four players (doubles) on a 2.7m x 1.5m table.
They repeatedly hit a 40mm-diameter ball made of celluloid and plastic over and around the net by using rackets (also known as bats) made out of wood that are covered by pimpled rubber.
The object is to score 11 points before your opponent.
In a game where each player has two serves, they hit the ball back and forth and must only allow a ball played towards them to bounce once on their side of table, and the opponent must return it so it bounces on the opposite side.
If the score becomes tied at 10 points each, the first player or pair to gain a two point lead will be victorious. In addition, a match will consist of winning the best of any odd number of games such as: 3, 5 or 7.
Serve it up
As I prepared myself in the changing rooms, the noise inside the hall was pretty deafening. You could hear balls being rhythmically knocked back and forth and the anguished cries of those struggling with the pace.
There was certainly a competitive feel to the atmosphere, even though – like me – not all the people present were seasoned table tennis hitters.
Finding a spot and table wasn’t hard due to the impressive facilities at the club.
My friend eased me in at first but as I got to grips with the sport, I wanted a doubles match with another pairing. My competitive nature was taking over…
Junaid found an experienced partnership who were no doubt feeling smug about their prospects of victory, but I warmed up thoroughly, determined to not to be embarrassed in my first competitive table tennis game.
It was time for the showdown. At the back of my mind, I was thinking of when Mike Tyson the huge favourite, lost to Buster Douglas and it just gave me the confidence to surprise the other pair.
“After believing in my own abilities, I managed to give them a scare so next time hopefully I can hand them a defeat”
I served first but my nerves got the better of me and it went straight into the net, but Junaid was quick to push me on and said ‘Continue doing that, it will pay off, trust me.’
As I got into the flow, I started to put my stamp on the game and alongside Junaid, we caused our opponents plenty of problems.
They were on the backfoot for most of the contest as our youthful energy paid dividends. My confidence grew and I unleashed a destructive hit that startled the opposition. I was here to play.
However, experienced eventually told and they rallied to earn a 3-2 victory.
But afterwards they came over and said ‘We didn’t think you had it in you, that was a good workout. You better be here next week – we will certainly have a rematch.’
Those words gave me so much encouragement. At first, I thought I would be a disaster and there was no hope, but after believing in my own abilities, I managed to give them a scare so next time hopefully I can hand them a defeat.
Football is my main sporting passion, but table tennis was tremendous fun. Despite it being a challenging sport to master at first, it’s one people of all ages and abilities can enjoy and it also gives you a really good workout.
There will almost certainly be a club in your area that welcomes newcomers, and if you are feeling spontaneous you could even try it at home!
Just watch out for your mum’s best dinner service if you do decide to give it a go on your dining table.
By deciding to give up my sofa for a strenuous cardiovascular work out, I not only improved my endurance levels but I enjoyed doing something different and I would recommend everyone to give the sport a try.
To find out where you can give table tennis a go, visit the Table Tennis England website.