Written by Sam Priestley.
I recently moved to Tunbridge Wells, a small rather sleepy town in the commuter belt of London. You can walk from one side to the other, and the people at the local shops all now greet me by name. It doesn't have a Waitrose, but it does have two table tennis divisions.
And that is part of the beauty of local league table tennis. It is just so convenient! I could choose almost any day of the week and within a half hour drive of my house be able to find a league and team that is playing that night.
In a month, I could get the same amount of match practice as someone who is exclusively doing Table Tennis England Grand Prix tournaments gets in a year. And, although the competition isn't quite as good, there is also a beauty to the local league player.
Let me introduce you to John
John is 65 and recently retired. He played a bit of table tennis as a kid but then didn't pick up a bat again until he hit 50. He's played a few times a week ever since. John's never played in a Grand Prix event. He wears suit trousers while playing. He has never changed his rubbers. And he can't move because his knees are shot.
The thing about John? He goes and beats you!
And you're not quite sure how. He holds the bat like a lollipop, stands up straight, has one eye closed, but... every superb shot you blast at him comes back at a weird angle you just can't get to.
This man is defying every law your table tennis coach ever told you. It must be a fluke. So you play John again, and he beats you again.
Eventually, you get to grips with John's unique style and start to win... then you come across Peter. He's 70, with a curved spine, and half blind. And the cycle repeats itself.
Make the most of it
I spent a year training table tennis every day with a professional coach. My technique is lovely, and if you play me with 'correct' technique I will give you a run for your money. But start doing weird stuff - balls that are too high, or too slow, or too dead - and I fall apart.
Every time I play in a local league, I learn a huge amount (dare I say, more than I learn from playing a 'good' player). I learn how to return weird balls. I learn the power of consistency, and I learn about holding my bottle when losing to someone who I "should" be beating.
Not everyone you come up against is going to be a John or a Peter. Some of them are going to be bad, and you're going to beat them easily. But they are also a great opportunity to improve your game.
I like to treat them like a training dummy and set myself a challenge:
- Return every shot to one side of the table.
- Try and win 11-0.
- Only serve slow topspin serves.
- Only play forehands.
- Open up every backspin ball.
You can't do that in official Grand Prix events (or USATT rating tournaments). Every win or loss affects your ranking. But this is local league. Who cares? Don't tell me you can't think up a challenge that will improve your table tennis while making it tough to beat even the most mediocre player.
Local league table tennis is beautiful and if you are not doing it you're missing out. The convenience, the match experience, the variety of players and community is amazing. Trust me, join one!
Sam Priestley is both co-owner at Eastfield and a #TeamEastfield sponsored player. His experience learning to play table tennis in a year caught the public imagination and his transformation video has been viewed over 8 million times on YouTube. He blogs about life and business at SamPriestley.com!