Vivek started playing table tennis with his dad when he was 11 years old. Barely 3 months later, he won a tournament which established his rating at 950. For the uninitiated, ratings range between 0 and 3000, the higher the better. Most start at the bottom, in the 100s or 200s and work their way upward with each match they play. Today, Vivek’s rating hovers around the 1650 mark. Having moved from a city that had one club with just three table tennis tables, Vivek is delighted with the facilities and opportunities available in the Bay Area.
A popular hang-out for the South Asian Bay Area player is the program offered by the India Community Center(ICC) in Milpitas, run by Rajul Sheth. Rajul was very active in the Indian national table tennis circuit. As the Gujarat State Men’s Singles Champ, he played actively for 15 years. Though a Mechanical Engineer by qualification, he worked retail jobs for two years after immigrating to this country. He did not give up on the sport though, and when he won the 2450 event in the Palo Alto tournament, he was approached to coach at City Beach club for a brief period. And then ICC happened. At that point there were only about 9 kids in the program. Rajul worked hard with them and took them to the Junior Olympics in Virginia….the team won 13 medals and there was no looking back.
The ICC program now has 125 students. 3 other coaches assist Rajul – Michelle Do, who played in the 2000 Olympics and was the youngest ever to qualify for the team as well as Anh Nguyen and Kevin Au both rated 2400. Rajul is also Director –in- Charge of the North California Leagues of the USATT (USA Table Tennis), and 25 teams in his region are now registered to play in the USATT nationwide league.
Though there are some really good players as young as 6, the ideal age for a kid to start is about 7, to be able to benefit fully from the drills and to master the techniques. Kids can get into competitive Table tennis almost immediately to be able to work on their ratings. Leagues also provide a very healthy learning environment for kids of all ages. Since it is mostly ratings based, it can be a humbling experience to be in your teens and lose to an 8 year old!
Table tennis is a great game and a perfect fit for the South Asian physique. It requires more skill and strategy than it does stamina and muscle. Though table tennis has been around in the US from the early 1900s and arguably is played by more Americans than is baseball, it just never received the kind of attention or money that it deserved. Today, however, with the growing population from the East, and the large number of excellent programs that have mushroomed, USATT is also really pushing the game. There are Table tennis classes in schools and colleges, ESPN will be broadcasting the game, and for the first time, the US World Championship will be hosted in Stanford in December 2007. Wesleyan College in Texas offers full time Table tennis scholarships and more colleges are likely to follow suit. So there is a pretty good future for the game. And very minimal investment is required to keep it up.
This is sunny California- park your cars in the driveway, put in a Table tennis table in your garage and let your kids have the run of it. You may not be raising the Tiger Woods of Table tennis but you will have fun trying to do it, not to mention maybe a college scholarship or two on the horizon…
For more information on ICC’s table tennis program check out their website