Why do we Play?

Rowden Fullen (1990’s)

Most of us play because we love the game — the travelling to matches or tournaments, the competition, the meeting with friends and comrades even from other clubs. There is a companionship in sport that transcends race, colour and age and sex. Does a painter or a musician stop at a certain age? Many of us continue well past retirement, some even resume playing when they give up work and have more time. Even most professional players like the sport, what indeed is more satisfying than being able to earn a living at something you want to do? And if you do something really well, whatever this may be, perhaps you owe it to yourself for your own peace of mind to give it your best shot!

For many table tennis is the ultimate form of self-expression. What you are and how you play you have to create yourself, through application and constructive effort. People are consumers — very few are producers. Most people don’t do anything even remotely creative with their lives. The game gives you the chance to learn to produce something for yourself, you can’t buy a great backhand at the supermarket, but you can make your own!

The social player does not need to be as goal-oriented as the professional, but the game is good for you socially, physically and mentally. It can teach you to think and to react quickly in a pressure situation and there is nothing like the feeling of relaxation after a long, tough match. Most of us too like to compete, we enjoy the stress and pressure of the battle.

Table tennis is not an easy game to learn — in fact some of us never stop learning. One of the reasons is that there are so many variations, in a whole lifetime of playing the ball never comes over the net twice in exactly the same way. Practise as long as you like but you can never rehearse one single game, nothing is predictable. Our game is all about spontaneity and reacting to unexpected situations as they arise. In fact the prime skill of table tennis at the very highest level is the ability to be able to adapt to and cope with new techniques, tactics, styles of play, innovations and challenges. The player who cannot do this cannot survive at the top.

The game can still matter as you get older. Often you learn to appreciate it more and there are always aspects to improve and new things to learn. Also like many other sports table tennis is changing year by year, there are new rules and regulations, new equipment and tactics, always another challenge around the corner. Some of us too are more the perfectionist rather than the competitor. We want to play our own game just as well as it can be played — winning or losing is not always important, we want to reach out and touch perfection. Many of us in fact walk a tightrope on court — the winner in us insists on playing shots that have a higher percentage of success — the artist inside, the creative part of us, always wants instead to take risks, variation in spin, speed, direction or tactics. Some of us just don’t like to play in a dull and boring way, we like our game to be flowing, colourful and exciting!

However whatever your approach and your reasons for playing, it doesn’t do to take yourself too seriously. Win or lose, the sun will still shine tomorrow and it will still rain in the mountains. And indeed will anything you may do or achieve be remembered in 400/500 years?