The Ping Pong Pecking Order

I take requests.

I recently received a call from a friend and fellow table tennis player whom I had not seen in several months. He asked that I write about a common problem that he’s witnessed at multiple table tennis clubs. The issue was players who snubbed weaker players by refusing to play them, warm up with them, or acknowledge their presence. I discussed this with another player who immediately knew what I was talking about. She pointed out that while this happens everyday at table tennis clubs, it wouldn’t be acceptable behavior in any other walk of life. As an artist, she would never think of walking away from someone who wanted to discuss art, simply because they were less talented or knowledgeable. 

I’ve witnessed this type of boorish behavior and tried to minimize it at any club that I’ve been affiliated with. I think that most table tennis players tend to be pretty respectful. There are times when players should politely decline an invitation to play. Problems occur when players refuse to play anyone who they view as an inferior player. I knew of a player who had been turned down several times by some of the better players. His stated goal was to play better players so he could learn to play better. Ironically, this same player would not play anyone that was not as good as he was. 

It’s not just the beginners who get snubbed. I recall a USATT 2200 level player who experienced rejection from a player who said he was too tired to play. That would have seemed perfectly reasonable, except two minutes later that same player had miraculously recovered and was playing a preferred opponent. Most of these issues could be solved with some kindness, manners, and common sense. 

The nature of sports, and life in general, is that there is a pecking order. In table tennis we have ratings. We also have rankings. There are ways to figure out where you fall in the continuum of table tennis talent. Players aspire to improve and move up. It’s possible to be the best player in one venue, and the weakest in another. None of this should affect how we treat other players. The ping pong pecking order is a fact of life. Perhaps we just need to keep it in perspective.

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