A few years back I recall commenting to my wife about a book about women. When I mentioned that it had been written by a man, she promptly responded, “So it’s fiction.” At the risk of expounding on that which I can only know second hand, I think the subject of women’s table tennis is one that is worth exploring. The average table tennis club in the U.S. is probably 90% male. Something that is unique to our sport is that men routinely compete against women. Adults compete against children, and it is entirely possible to compete against family members in tournaments. The standard reason given for this is that since table tennis is a game of skill, the age or sex of the players is irrelevant. The real reason behind this might really be that there simply are not enough players to separate players by age or sex.
The true awkwardness of adults competing against young children is a subject for another day, but what about women? Is there any real reason for them not to compete against men? Unlike in some sports, women can compete quite well against men in most of the table tennis world. Often the real differences are more about style than ability. Still, it is not hard to imagine that with clubs being dominated by men, not every woman will feel comfortable getting fully involved in your average club. Short of having a women-only club, perhaps clubs need to designate certain hours for women’s training and promote women’s tournaments.
Many words have been written about why table tennis is not embraced in the states the way it is in some parts of the world. The answer to this is rooted in American culture and experience. What works in China and what has been successful in Sweden will almost certainly not work in the U.S. What actually might work is introducing table tennis to the 50% of the population that might not be embarrassed to say they are on a ping pong team. We need to recognize that emphasis on elite players by the USATT, while a necessary function, does little to grow the number of players on a national level.
My own experience with coaching women has almost always been very positive. Generally, they have been far more coachable and see value in playing beyond increasing their current rating, in a way that I rarely see with male players. This is not to imply that they are in any way less competitive. It does seem though, that a woman’s perspective is often somewhat different. At this point, I am probably speculating and should probably not wade any deeper into this subject matter. What I do know is that women enjoy playing as much as anyone, and they may very well be the future of table tennis in the United States.