(By: Shivkumar Jha)
Table Tennis. Also known as ping pong to the lay people. I recall as a child playing this game myself. I’m not sure why I taught my son this game, but he clearly gravitated towards it playing for the last 5 years himself.
Not a day goes by when I question myself if tennis or golf would have been better. I try to push him towards other games, but he chooses to continue this incredibly difficult journey. For most people this is a very casual sport. Not even a sport. But for the very few Elite hard-working and passionate folks it is extremely rewarding as well as draining.
The sport is considered equivalent to playing chess while running a sprint at the same time. The amount of perseverance and hard work of numerous hours that goes into this game on a daily basis is indescribable. Years go by mastering simple loops or touch while raising one’s level beyond the rating of 2000. The table tennis community in USA would consider this rating as a master level and is one of the first hurdles to cross if someone is to be considered any good. There are players who have mastered this level in less than 2 years of picking up the paddle versus some not so fortunate while having spent their entire lifetime and unable to cross 1800. Nevertheless, they have not given up.
One of the reasons that they still continue playing this sport is that it keeps them healthy and agile even as they grow old. It can be played even on a dining table or any recreation center. In fact, there is a whole Parkinson’s Community that is dedicated to just playing ping pong as it has its own health benefits.
My son also reached this milestone of 2000 at around age 12. The pressure of performance and to be the best has had its own toll over his mind and body. There was a full one year of his life at this age that he had to do countless doctors’ visits and lab tests that kept him away from table tennis. He has suffered emotionally and physically over the last 3 years but is now a very stable 2300 rated player. However, my son is only 14 years old and not a day goes by when I think we need to stop playing this sport and focus on other productive activities in life. He has lost many countless years of normal friendship and relationship with his family and friends. Not a day has gone by in the last 5 years that he has not spent an hour or two playing this game or thinking about it. When he was in kindergarten, he drew his 1st picture book about him and table tennis and explained it to his class. Table tennis is what he eats, drinks and sleeps. He knows there is not much of a career in table tennis or money.
Fame is only known to those who actually understand or are passionate about this sport. Unlike many football or baseball fans who may not have even thrown a ball in their entire life but choose to follow players and make them famous as Gods, table tennis has no such opportunity at least in the United States.
We do not get that many 70° days in Massachusetts to enjoy the Sun, but he chooses to stay indoors and continue his journey to be one of the best in this sport. As a parent looking at this kind of sacrifice while he hears the cheers and laughter of kids of the same age when driving for practice, is heartbreaking. He also knows that he has a choice of having a so-called normal childhood, but he chooses to continue the difficult path of discipline and hard work.
He has traveled all around the country with numerous flights and hotel stays in the hope to improve his game. Yesterday, he had one of the most difficult losses of his career. He has cried at several losses over the last many years and cherished several medals and trophies. But this was the first time though, his parents cried as well as his coach in last 5 years. It was nobody’s fault. This is how one of the biggest tournaments of his life was destined to be. The matches are played best of five games. He was up 2-0 against an opponent and winning the third game easily but a mild distraction may have caused him to lose that game and eventually the whole match. He was up twice in that match but could not hold on to a big lead both times.
A split-second distraction and loss of focus made 5 years of hard work disappear. He could have been easily at the number three spot for the national team but ended up at number 9 and could not make it to the team. This loss cost him that spot. Someone he beat in the selection process already made it to the 4th spot in the team. Does this really make him a less capable player? No. This loss has only made him a better player. He has neither given up faith in his supporters nor has his coach.
As parents we continue to support in whatever choices he wants to make. Sometimes it questions our judgement as grown-ups, but I firmly believe in God. This loss has just restored my faith in him more. I am sure a brighter and rewarding future has already been planned by Him. We all are awaiting that day…every day.
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