All of the Dragons in The Table Tennis Dungeon

It’s that time again. While I procrastinated as long as possible, I knew I would eventually have to renew my affiliation with USATT. I am now totally up to date on my own membership, T3’s registration,  my background check, and Safesport certification. My coaching credentials are up to date, and I’m hoping life gets back to normal sometime in the next twelve months. As part of this process, I once again had to take Safesport training. It wasn’t too painful. I haven’t been in the habit of bullying, hazing, or otherwise abusing other table tennis players anyway.

At least, that’s what I thought. I do recall asking one player if he was sure he wanted to be a professional table tennis player. I have a great gift, and underrated ability to dish out sarcasm. I also inquired as to the due date of the twins, with a male player who was dealing with weight issues. I’m all in favor of some good natured joking around, but I may have occasionally taken it too far. 

As I thought about all the issues that were brought up in Safesport training, I began to remember my own experiences in sport, and how often I had either been a witness to, or victim of some sort of abuse. Some of what is now considered abuse was once routine procedure for coaches. I witnessed plenty of angry coaches, and some that encouraged physical and verbal abuse. I have to admit I have some mixed feelings about judging coaches from fifty years ago by the standards of 2020. My eighth grade physical education teacher referred to the entire class as “vegetables,” and some students were singled out as “dummies.” I know of at least one allegation of attempted sexual abuse by a coach with one of my teammates. I learned about it forty years after the fact. If I had known about it at the time, I’m sure I would have had no idea how to handle it. 

So, the idea of training coaches and leaders to handle these situations appropriately is definitely a good idea. But, what if you grew up with frequent verbal abuse, bullying, hazing, or worse? I knew that I grew up with all types of abuse. Most of it was verbal, but some was physical. Most of it was the result of an abundance of unsupervised time. I wouldn’t trade those days for anything, but there’s a downside to being the smallest of your peers during your formative years. 

I was discussing this with one of my students who had been similarly mistreated. We came to the conclusion that people respond differently to these childhood experiences. If you are called a loser enough times, it may affect more than just your future as a table tennis player. For some people, it may take some self evaluation, or maybe even therapy to get past all the things that are holding them back.. 

Table tennis has made me more introspective than any other sport that I’ve participated in. I think because it is generally an individual endeavor, it tends to reveal all the demons that athletes sometimes unknowingly deal with. I think it’s best to confront all of the dragons head on. It may be more dangerous, but it’s the role you were born to play. 

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