I regret to inform my loyal readers, good friends, and web surfers, that thousands, perhaps millions of table tennis players are missing. This is generally going unreported by the mainstream media. As the president of one of the world’s smallest table tennis clubs, I was not fully aware of the extent of this unexplained phenomenon. A recent survey of my roster of players produced some interesting insights. As I researched every player from Anderson to Ziegler, I was alarmed to discover that I had no idea what had become of a surprising number of players, including Anderson and Ziegler. I do have hundreds of table tennis contacts, some who I remember fondly, and some who I have no idea who they are. I would probably feel worse about this, except that the largest club in Atlanta has lost thousands. The AGTTA records go back nearly twenty years, recording every league player from Abad to Zugloff. AGTTA is considered a excellent club and is very well attended, yet only a small percentage of players really stay connected to club table tennis. The club in Athens Georgia is having a slight drop in attendance, but the level of play has increased dramatically. The Athens club is not just for beginners. This brings us to an inconvenient truth. Many players drop out when they realize they aren’t keeping up with the better players.
Players move, marry, get promotions, die, run out of money, have kids, take up pickleball, get injured, etc. I know where some of the missing players went. My wife frequently reminds me that people have lives, and they aren’t all as obsessed with table tennis as I am. I know. I know. The problem still remains. How can we retain more players and grow table tennis worldwide?
I’ve seen our sport flourish and fail. Everywhere that there has been growth, there have always been two key ingredients. It helps to have tournaments. Every great club has a coaching program. A good venue is a plus. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have a couple of really high level players around. These aren’t the essential ingredients.
The only mandatory items are tables and a leader. Ask any club president how many tables that they could fill on a regular basis, and the answer is always the same; a few more than they currently have. Players will come to the worst parts of town in bad weather if there are enough tables and someone in charge. A common mistake some clubs make is starting with too many hours. It will take some time to grow. Having tables is pointless if there aren’t plenty of players. Leadership is essential. I’ve seen several clubs flounder and eventually die because there wasn’t anyone in charge. In this environment, small problems become big problems. I once quit attending a club simply because their nets were all broken.
Growing table tennis means selling the experience. Players want to play. Our sport is not perfect, but there’s no reason it can’t grow. There are tons of potential players out there, and maybe we can locate some of the missing ones.