Saturday was a great day of table tennis in Lawrenceville Georgia. Nobody won any trophies. There were only six players present. No rating points were won or lost. One player won all his matches, and one didn’t win any. Some matches were pretty close, and some were lopsided blowouts. Saturday was a great day of table tennis.
It could have been different. Throw six players together with six different personalities, and six different sets of expectations, and things can go terribly wrong. I’ve seen it happen, and if you’ve been around table tennis very long, so have you. This kind of open play, when done right, brings out the best aspects of table tennis. Remove the pressure of a tournament environment, and replace it with the ambiance of a impromptu party. Everyone is definitely playing to win. Players still get frustrated, but even if they are not playing their best, they are spending quality time with players who love to play as much as they do.
Even though I call our Saturday afternoon sessions open play, there are some rules that I make sure everyone understands. Not everybody likes the rules, but they are absolutely essential. The rules are so simple that it would seem like they aren’t necessary. They are. Tables are for match play, so warm up time is limited to three minutes. Only use one ball per table. Serve legally. Winning does not allow you to stay on the table. Instead, the goal is for everyone to play as many different players as possible. This system works really well. With two tables and six or seven players, it’s pretty easy to keep things running smoothly.
Table tennis is a great sport, that to really enjoy needs a great environment. Good tables, good nets, plenty of room, good lighting, and good players help. None of that will make any difference if players perceive the club as a hostile environment. Clubs don’t run themselves. It’s not enough to just open the doors and assume everything will work out okay. Players will hog tables, ignore newcomers, serve illegally, hustle weaker players, use a pocket of balls during a match, “accidentally” take home a few; and that’s just what the nice ones will do. Those same rude players will be helpful and friendly role models, if club rules are clearly stated, and enforced. Saturday was a great day of table tennis. Next Saturday could be even better.