Table Tennis Growth

When I read the order of play to Norm, he laughed. The first group­ing was against Hit-And-Miss, and being such an active mem­ber in the com­mu­ni­ty, Norm knew them well. Against this team of three mid­dle-aged, white met­ro­sex­u­als and their bud­dy Chinese cap­tain, we fared what can only be described as holo­caus­tic. They wore tight-fit­ting shirts, styl­ish tear­away pants, and had the strength, and speed to match.

Except for the Chinese guy. He had a bit of a pot bel­ly, a bit of a scruff, and a very feared, well-bal­anced, pen-hold­ers grip. And he spoke great English.

It was a plea­sure to lose to such nice guys.

I asked them about the next team we were up against, and they told us that they trashed the two lit­tle guys at the last league meet. Little guys? Kids. But I can already tell that both have improved since last month, the capain told me.

No chal­lenge for four fit men in their thir­ties plus one Chinese guy (40 give or take 10 years). A lit­tle more dif­fi­cult for me and my team­mates, Norm, a calm­ly pas­sion­ate Chinese guy in his 50’s, and Andrzej, a Polish man who picked up table ten­nis this year after a 40 year break, both of whom are bet­ter than I am.

I nev­er would have believed that an 11-year-old and his sev­en-year-old broth­er could be so intim­i­dat­ing, a very FRENCH Olivier and Laurent. As cap­tain, I had the deci­sion to make as to who was play­ing first.

In table ten­nis, as with chess, the strongest play­er on the team is usu­al­ly signed to the first match so that the match­es may end before the weak­er play­ers have to play. Captain 1 signs the play sheet for the order of play for his team, and hands the sheet fold­ed in half to Captain 2 so he can’t see, and use such infor­ma­tion to his advan­tage by pair­ing up oppo­nent styles against their weak­ness­es. Out of five match­es, there are two sin­gles at the start, a dou­bles in the mid­dle, and two more sin­gles at the end between the first sin­gles oppo­nents reversed, for best out of five matches.

Confused yet?

Before I signed the play sheet, Norm let me in on a lit­tle secret; when Olivier was 10 last year, Norm beat him in the league. Gambling that this would still hold true, and our oppo­nents would fol­low form, I put Norm first, me sec­ond, and Andrew with Norm as dou­bles. That way Norm had the best chance at beat­ing the old­er broth­er, I would have a chance at beat­ing the younger broth­er, they would win dou­bles, and that would be it.

Unfortunately, they decid­ed to play the younger broth­er, Laurent, first. He could only see about a foot over the table, and I could tell his move­ments were strained from the height dis­ad­van­tage. He spoke no English, except for the phrase “Backhand?” dur­ing warm-ups, and “One mo!” when he was at 10 points. Sometimes he would mim­ic the table ten­nis pros with lit­tle grunts of sat­is­fac­tion when he got a point. Eventually, he lost to Norm gra­cious­ly (for a seven-year-old).

Then I was up against the Olivier, the old­er broth­er. Believing that a pair of descend­ed tes­ti­cles to be my only advan­tage, I played with a lump in my throat, and he returned like a machine, sur­pris­ing me at every point. I could nev­er keep him off bal­ance, or run him around the table. He just kept land­ing the ball on my side.

I lost. Then we lost at dou­bles, a tremen­dous upset. My mind was out, and I was forced to play the younger broth­er next. I lost again, although I won one set after Norm told me to serve to the far side of his stance (they had a time-out and eas­i­ly adjust­ed for the next set). By that time, we lost three out of five match­es, and they were deter­mined to be the win­ning team, but Olivier asked to play Norm for the final match any­way. When Oliver won, he walked over and shook Norm’s hand, a look of proud accom­plish­ment on his face.

And this is what Norm loves the most. To see those younger play­ers grow up and improve and become nation­al team players.

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