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A look into the challenging and misunderstood sport table tennis

If you think of table tennis, also known as ping-pong, what do you think? Middle school gymnastics class? Forrest Gump? The basement of your grandparents?

Although the sport is well known, it is not well understood. It's not just a pastime or a humorous Hollywood reference – it's actually a competitive Olympic sport . It's not easy, no way. In fact, table tennis requires serious skills and athleticism to master, and provides real physical and mental benefits.

Before the next big competition for American table tennis players ̵

1; the Pan American Cup . on February 1 and 3, 2019 in Puerto Rico qualifying for the Table Tennis World Cup – we met with Matt Hetherington, the director of media and communications, for USA Table Tennis ITTF Level, two certified table tennis coach and former National Table Tennis team player for New Zealand, to get to know the realities of the sport.

Although it has been an Olympic event since 1988, table tennis is still growing in the United States. 19659005] Ping-Pong is not yet popular enough to be a full-fledged professional sport in the United States, Hetherington says, although there is a US national team consisting of about 40 athletes competing regularly around the world. A small handful of Americans also play professionally in Europe, where the sport dominates. However, Hetherington has seen US sports as table tennis-specific bars – such as the national chain SPIN – and other local clubs – and charity events with celebrities such as Ping Pong 4 Purpose growing socially] Host the Los Angeles Dodgers – land throughout the country. "It's grown a lot from that point of view," he says.

The three largest table tennis tournaments in America are the US Nationals, which are held every July and attract about 800 players. the US. Open an international tournament, held every December with around 800 players; and the North American Teams Championships which host thousands of players competing in teams of three to five players, Hetherington says.

Hetherington says the big tournaments are really something. "They go in and it sounds like it's raining [because of the sheer volume of balls being played at once]." He estimates that between 10,000 and 12,000 people in the US currently hold table tennis and / or compete tournaments, with possibly more playing in club leagues.

Tennis competitions can contain dozens of different events. For example, US nationals have 96 different events based on player level, gender, age group, singles versus doubles and type of paddle used (for example, a sandpaper paddle versus hard rubber). In all games, the athletes each play two bonuses and play up to 11 points, with a two-point win being required. Most tournaments are the best of five games, Hetherington says, and larger pro tournaments play the best of seven games.

Table tennis is a relatively accessible sport that is accessible to all ages and types of athletes.

Compared to other sports that have certain qualifications or barriers to play, table tennis is "a pretty open sport," says Hetherington. Age is not an unwavering factor – tournaments attract players under the age of 10 and over 90, says Hetherington. Many athletes with mental and / or physical disabilities who could prevent them from participating in other activities can attend the low-contact, low-level level of sport. For example, some table tennis clubs organize clinics for Alzheimer's patients, while others offer special programs for players with autism or Parkinson's on. Another good example: a table tennis player in Egypt, Ibrahim Hamato, who lost both arms in an accident as a child, plays table tennis in competition by putting the paddle in his mouth .

Actually Different In other sports, you do not need specific qualifications or basic skills to be a competitive table tennis player – even in big name tournaments like US nationals. You just have to sign up for a tournament pass, says Hetherington.

The training for table tennis competitions requires a lot of footwork.

"When people observe [recreational] table tennis, it is played on such a small table Many people assume that you do not have to move your feet [in the sport]," says Hetherington. However, most games are played at larger tables, where a series of quick, calculated steps are required to keep the ball in play. "You really need to be able to move very fast, so it's a lot more physical than you think, especially if you take it seriously and take it seriously," he says.

To improve their footwork, competitors will otherwise shoot shots at different parts of the table and join the footwork between them as well as drills where they do not know where the ball is going, Hetherington says. It's all about agility, fast footwork, and "keeping your feet light," he adds.

Elite rivals will also work out in the gym to build explosive leg strength and perform movements like weighted squats and weighted lunges Hetherington It works But table tennis is not It also requires a lot of core work – for example, playing with a forehand punch will increase the power with which you hit the ball Hetherington says, "In fact, competitive table tennis players do not focus on the strength of the upper body at all," he says. "It's more about muscle memory than muscle mass," he explains. "The ball is so small and so on so easy, if you can [hit it too forcefully]he can go anywhere. "

To be in sport To top that, players need a combination of coordination and a very fast reaction time.

The coordination for table tennis demands is not just hand-eye coordination, Hetherington explains, "but also general physical coordination." The ability to respond quickly and make quick decisions is equally important. "If you fly a table tennis ball in your direction, you do not have much time to find out what's going on," he explains. To react quickly (and to move) is the key.

Overall, there are many tiny details [to master] when you learn to play, "says Hetherington. "It takes a lot of commitment and time." When Hetherington went on a training trip to China a few years ago, he practiced six hours a day, six days a week. Although this is an extreme example (China is known to have the world's elite competitors and rigorous table tennis training programs, says Hetherington), professional players elsewhere will train for hours most days of the week, he says. [19659022] If you play table tennis at the rain table, you will probably see several health benefits.

When you play table tennis, this is excellent mobility, coordination and stamina, says Hetherington. Mentally, it's good for your focus and resilience. "If you work out for hours, it gets pretty repetitive," says Hetherington. This makes him a "pretty mentally challenging sport".

It is also a great way to meet new people and find a social network Hetherington A common saying in sport is, "A friend in table tennis is a friend for life," he adds.

Despite these benefits, "it's a sport that does not get much attention," says Hetherington. I have to give it a try or at least try it. "And from casual table tennis bars to competitive tournaments open to players of all levels, there are plenty of opportunities to try it out.

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