I recently was told that someone had “officially quit table tennis.” He had several reasons for making it official, and he might really mean it this time. He had unofficially quit a few other times, so we’ll see if this time it’s for real. One of the reasons players sometimes site for considering quitting is the atmosphere at their club. The truth is that the dog eat dog atmosphere of some clubs is anything but a joke.
At every club that I’ve been associated with I’ve tried to minimize this element. I know it’s possible to be highly competitive with someone, and still consider them a friend. Despite my best efforts, I have seen some pretty ugly altercations in the midst of some “friendly” matches. A couple of calls to the police, a few threats of physical violence, and some pretty interesting vocal outbursts come to mind. USATT has begun requiring clubs to be SafeSport https://www.safesport.org/ compliant. This is definitely a step in the right direction to help clubs know how to best handle these situations.
Many of the things that create a bad atmosphere at table tennis clubs never escalate to a violent level. Table tennis has far fewer fights than the sport of hockey. There are fewer shouting matches than in baseball or soccer. Unlike in basketball, referees are often completely ignored. But you can’t put random players and personalities, competing a few feet apart, and not have some bad things happen occasionally. Sometimes feelings are hurt, and new players quit, almost before they ever get started. Altercations can start over excessive celebrations, illegal serves, overly long timeouts, and sometimes, for almost no reason at all.
A well run club will be prepared for these situations before they happen. Order can only be brought to a dog eat dog club by a strong alpha dog, preferably a friendly one. Somebody has to be in charge. Far too many clubs collapse because there is no one to go to when troubles arise. In the event that the top dog is not there, a designated leader must be assigned and recognized. Creating a good atmosphere for a table tennis club requires good leadership. Someone needs to be officially in charge, or players will tend to “officially quit.”