Sunday, December 21, 2014

Learning from Table Tennis, School and Club Sports

I was first introduced to this game at the local sports club in my city. Two friends were playing the game. I observed curiously. This seemed like real fun. I picked up the racket one day, and hit a few shots across the table. They landed outside the table. A few months later, they finally landed on the table. A new game had entered my life. Table Tennis is defined as a sport in which two players hit a light weight ball back and forth using a table tennis bat. Ping Pong in short. A game I loved growing up. Here is what the game thought me and why sports has such an important role in a student's life:-

The role of a sports club in a students’ life

Fortunately I was born before the Internet age became a reality. Before Orkut was the cool thing. So because we did not have too much to do on the computers and at home, we had to find other ways to entertain ourselves as young people.

Sports was one such endeavor. But you need some space to play any sport. That is why a sports club is so important in a young students life. It helps the student explore games. Through the game, the importance of physical fitness and activity can be inculcated in the student.
My parents joined a community club that had all these facilities. There was a huge open concrete ground where members could play cricket, tennis, football and hockey. A dream for any young child. Then there was an indoor facility where members could play badminton, chess, darts and table tennis. Every weekend, students from all over the city would gather at the club to play these games. Table Tennis was a favorite for many.

I spent most of my weekends between the ages of 13 to 17 at this club. We started the night off with some cricket and always ended it with an hour or two of table tennis. It became a weekly ritual. Such a fun ritual.

Why are students’ so disciplined when they play a game they love?

I always wondered how students approached play and how students approached school work. There were students that never understood anything in class (me included), but would play a game and show an incredible level of maturity and physical skill and organization. Why did kids love play so much?

A group of passionate young sports enthusiasts turned up every weekend for these games. So we were never short of people. The club would organize several sport tournaments for the students and the members. Table Tennis had many such events. I made sure I participated in most of them.

A new game. A new mission in life.

Picture credit - Oxford University Sport

I soon fell in love with the game of Table Tennis. A neighbor in my building had gifted me a Table Tennis board and a bucket of equipment, as they were shifting to the Phillipines. I would play it at school and at the club. During the week, I would call some of my neighborhood friends over and we would have table tennis marathons all evening. We were not being rewarded for all this effort. We just played because it was a fun thing to do.

Table Tennis at School

Fortunately, my school had a board for enthusiasts of the game to play on. But it took lots of time to setup the table and get everything ready. We had only 40 minutes of play every week. I never understood why there was so less time for games every week. It confused me because I knew this was a time of our lives, when we should be running around and not just be in the classroom all day. There was never enough time to play the game at school.

But if you got selected in the school team for the sport, you could get special permission to miss some classes to practice the game. I tried doing this, because I really wanted to play the game. I did not get in the school team in the first year. Fortunately I got through in the second year and the fun had just begun.

The excitement of School Sports

It was just a whole different feeling. In school, you get so excited to be recognized for something you are good at. This does not happen very often. We would stay back after school to practice the game. We got to miss the first few periods to play the game. We did feel special. The school would enroll our names in local inter-school tournaments. If we won these local events, the winning team would be given the chance to go for a national event in India, with teams from all over the country and from schools in the Gulf Region as well.

With Table Tennis Team in Indore

We won the tournament in my first year and our names were confirmed for the national tournament in India. I was in the ninth grade and I was doing really bad on the academic side. This side achievement was such a relief. It gave me something to hold on to.

Traveling for Youth Sports - Nagpur and Indore

In two weeks time, our tickets were booked, bags were packed and we were at the international airport in Bahrain waiting for our flight to India.

In Nagpur, we checked in at our hotels and decided to go play a few practice games at the venue. We enter the venue and there are hundred’s of students playing the game on three to four tables. I never saw so many people play the game.

The tournament started the next day. Unfortunately we were put in a hard group, lost our opening matches and took the next flight back home. But what amazed me was the quality of players at this tournament. They were really good. Many of the students in this tournament played the game from a very young age and had high hopes to become professional table tennis players as well. We played the game for fun. We knew we had to work harder to play at that level.

The next year, we came prepared. We won the local inter school tournament and enrolled our names for the national tournament in Indore. This time we fared better. We beat the host school, and managed to go to the second round of the tournament. This was a big achievement for us. We had just one board to practice the game on at school. Many of the participating schools had table tennis rooms, with multiple boards and specialized coaches. It was definitely a step forward. Overall, these two trips thought me a lot about preparation, being calm under pressure, and always playing one level up

This was not just a sport for some of these students

I got to speak to a student from Bengal who was playing in the under-14 tournament. He shared with me his story of how he started playing the game. There was one table tennis board in his district. He had to travel three kilometers every day to get to the sports center that had the board. But he really liked the game and did not mind doing it.  Over time with constant practice he became better at the game. He now played tournaments all over the country. The recognition he got from the game helped him get educational concessions at his local school and college. Sports for some of the students here was not just a game, but a way for them to get the chances to lead a better life.

Lessons I learned from the game

1)  First Lesson – Turn up everyday. Practice Everyday. - As one famous man said, ‘We overestimate how much we can do in the short term and underestimate how much we can get done over the long term.I had to practice everyday. No excuses. Just keep trying. Study the game. Observe other players. And Play as much as possible. If you want to do something better, you have to practice it everyday, religiously.I had to turn up everyday.
2)  Second Lesson – Play one level up - In our situation, because we played with national level junior table tennis players, we gave ourselves new standards. Thus when we came back to Bahrain to play our local table tennis tournament our performance improved considerably. We learned that it is vital to always strive for world class performance in any field. We must not be satisfied with being good only at the local level. Become best in the world at what you love doing.

How sports helped me as a student

It suddenly dawned upon me, that for the past few years, the only real learning I had done was through playing sports. This included cricket and table tennis. I could narrate lots of the little insights I got playing sports, but could not remember 90% of the subject matter I learned for the exams.

The ninth grade was now over and so was middle school. There were lots of ups and downs. I hung in there and came out stronger as a student both mentally and physically. But a new chapter in my life was going to start now. I was going to enter high school.

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