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Is it time to promote grass roots ping-pong?

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Is it time to promote grass roots ping-pong?

Do these guys have the right idea?

Courtesy http://www.worldchampionshipofpingpong.com/
We must educate the public about the sport of table tennis. Once they understand the sport, they will become table tennis converts.
- Common table tennis saying, in one form or another.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
- Common general public saying.

On that basis of the second quote above, it might just be a fair comment to call the ITTF an insane organization.

Since the advent of sponge rubber play in the 1950's, the sport of table tennis has slipped steadily from the public eye, becoming what is now at best a minority sport. Our sport operates in relative obscurity in most countries around the world, apart from the occasional brief flash of glory - such as Forrest Gump or Susan Sarandon's Spin New York table tennis club.

The ITTF has had 60 years since sponge rubber was introduced to try and get the public to turn on to elite table tennis, and they still haven't been able to get the job done. And who can blame the man on the street for not wanting to watch the best players in the world, when there is nothing exciting going on? Simple looking serves that get dumped in the net? No thanks. Matches where 3-4 strokes rallies are the norm? Forget it.

The public simply aren't interested in what the ITTF are selling.

Educate the Public

Ah, but we have to educate the public, many of us table tennis enthusiasts say. Once they understand the intricacies of spin, the complexity of deception and the power of the modern game, they'll come to love the sport like we do, and they'll be filled with a burning desire to play and watch the sport at the highest level.

Guess what? We've been saying that for 30-40 years, and it hasn't happened yet.

The general public aren't stupid. It doesn't take the average person more than a minute or so to realize that those dinky looking little serves that the receiver keeps missing must have some seriously deceptive spin on them. It's not that hard to understand.

The average viewer realizes that the top players are serious athletes with incredible skills who have practiced long hours to be able to hit those powerful third ball kills. They get it.

But they still find it boring to watch.

Around the world, there are hundreds of millions of people watching sport every day in stadiums, on TV and via the Internet. The vast majority of these are watching anything else but table tennis. Poker is doing very well these days. Good grief, even darts is alive and kicking butt. But table tennis? Not so much, I'm afraid.

When hundreds of millions of sports lovers don't want to watch your sport when it's played at the highest level, when TV executives won't put your sport on at 3am, let alone prime time, that should tell you something.

Educate the public about table tennis? Who are we kidding? Perhaps it's time to realize that the public should be educating us?

Is Ping-Pong the Savior of Table Tennis?

In comparison to the sport of table tennis, which is languishing in the doldrums, the game of ping-pong is flourishing.

While serious table tennis might be able to claim maybe 10 million devotees around the world (and probably much less if you don't count China), there must be hundreds of millions of people who like a game of ping-pong now and then. With their cheap basement paddles they happily whack the ball back and forth, blissfully unaware that they aren't playing 'real' table tennis according to us table tennis snobs.

With this huge potential player and fan base, what does the ITTF (and the rest of us serious table tennis people) do? Do we think long and hard about what these people want, and work diligently to provide it, thereby getting access to a massive untapped recreational market? Or do we waste endless hours and resources trying to convert them to the sport of elite table tennis?

I'll leave the answer to that question up to the reader.

Promote Ping-Pong

I think the time is well overdue for the ITTF to step up and acknowledge that the elite sport of table tennis is just that - a sport for the small percentage of people who have played ping-pong and got hooked enough to become serious table tennis players - and yes, I'm one of them.

But that still leaves over 90% of ping-pong players around the world out in the cold. The ITTF should give up on trying to convert these people to serious table tennis, and instead work on developing the game of ping-pong to provide these people with what they want - a fun pastime where they can pick up a paddle now and then, head to a club and have a good time with fellow ping-pong players.

There are people and clubs out there attempting to organize hardbat and social play. The ITTF needs to provide its table tennis expertise to assist in helping these guys develop ping-pong. It should also set out some simple and easy to follow equipment rules for what are acceptable rackets for ping-pong, and then get to work organizing ping-pong tournaments in tandem with table tennis competitions. Give them equal prizemoney, so that ping-pong players can be professionals too, and in a few years I'd be willing to bet the ping-pong competitions will be bigger than the table tennis tournaments.

Everybody loves ping-pong. A small percentage of ping-pong players love the sport enough to become table tennis players. Let's stop ignoring the vast majority of people who play our sport, and instead of trying to bring them into our small little fold, realize that they are already playing table tennis, if just not the kind that we might prefer.

I love the sport of table tennis - always have, always will. But I think we'd all be better off if we brought ping-pong and table tennis closer together, instead of widening the gulf between them.

And finally, you know what? From what I've seen of top level hardbat and sandpaper ping-pong played well, it's a pretty attractive sport to watch. Give it a few years for top level ping-pong players to develop, then put their matches on TV and I'd bet you'd get an audience pretty fast.

But why try something different that might succeed when you can spend the next twenty years doing the same old thing that you already know won't work?

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