I recently posed a question on Facebook to my thousands of table tennis friends. A grand total of sixty nine people either loved the picture, liked the post, or otherwise noted that they had not ignored my query completely. I did get fourteen thoughtful responses, plus my answer to my own question.
The question was, “What were the three biggest factors that influenced your improvement and/or development as a player?” I can’t claim that this is a particularly scientific poll. In some cases the answers were so cryptic I had to decipher the answer into my own interpretation of what they could have meant. Before I get to the top three (which were easily the three most listed), let’s look at some of the outliers. Matt Hetherington mentioned a training trip to China. I was the only respondent to recognize the role of playing other sports in my athletic development. Sean O’Connell found that teaching others had greatly aided his own development. Interestingly, only one person (David Cashwell) listed their own dedication and persistence as a primary reason for their progress.
The second tier of answers were completely equipment related. Access to a table was frequently listed. Some people mentioned table tennis robots, and there were frequent references to getting just the right racket or rubber combinations. Thanks to Blair Wilson we were able to address the pips or no pips controversy. As usual, going off on this tangent proved to be less than productive.
The third most sited answer was coaching. Since I’m doing a lot of name dropping, I’ll list the coaches and players who respondents mentioned. Richard McAfee, Keith Evans, Thomas Nunes, George Cooper, Joe Ryan, Dan Seemiller, Ricky Seemiller, Randy Seemiller, Larry Cooper, Jack Diamond, and Tuan Pham were all specifically recognized. Other respondents mentioned the patience of their unnamed coaches. You’re welcome.
Coming in at number two was affiliation with a table tennis club. I think this is where players make the jump from recreational to serious competitors. If table tennis is going to continue to grow, it will be because there is an emphasis on club table tennis. Only one respondent mentioned tournaments as a factor in their development. Are you listening USATT?
The top answer came as a little bit of a surprise to me. When faced with the question of what was the biggest factor in a player’s development, nearly every respondent mentioned other players and friends. The word friend came up far more than the word coach. Players come to table tennis through friendship. They stick with it because of the connections and friendships they form. Sometimes these friends are experienced players who take the time to help someone else grow. Sometimes these friends are coaches, but mostly they’re just players that are always there. I shouldn’t really be surprised. There have been a few times I’ve gone to a club, didn’t even play, and still had a great time. Table tennis is the sport, but it’s all about the people.