If someone asked me how I manage(d) to keep sane during quarantine I would either say one word: ping-pong, or two words: table tennis. The sport is also called whiff-whaff but if I said that, well, people wouldn’t believe that I have kept my sanity after all.
“But, is table tennis even a sport?” People asking this have probably never seen how physical and intense table tennis can be. However, it is true that casual/unprofessional play usually doesn’t tire the body that much, unless of course your playstyle is as crazy as Adam Bobrow’s. However, I would gladly challenge any naysayers for a match and I promise them, they would be sweating profusely by the end (I do possess some wicked spins hehe).
I am aware that table tennis tables don’t grow on trees (stop picturing it!) but you don’t need to buy one in order to play. There are a few outdoor tables in parks around Amsterdam, however, if the weather conditions are not optimal you may not be able to play very well. Yes, even if you are using outdoor balls which are supposedly better in rainy and windy conditions… But the winter is almost gone now and sunny days are coming, so take full advantage of them! Even if you live somewhere that rains all the time or you can’t get outside/are isolating, don’t lose heart, you can still play! If you happen to have some space at home and don’t eat dinner on the floor then you are halfway there, as you can always get a retractable net (using coffee jars and Uncle Ben’s rice packs also works if you are really desperate) which you can then fit onto your dinner table. (Pro tip: if you don’t like sharing food, you can keep the net – or the rice packs I guess – on the table at all times to scare people away from reaching over to your side and grabbing that crunchy fry you were saving for your last bite.)
All you need then is a set of some table tennis paddles and a few balls, which are pretty cheap (don’t buy a professional paddle like me, I’m too far gone by now, you can’t save me) and a partner that is willing to run after your every shank, donkey or edge shot. If you are living alone/isolating you could try playing against your wall, but make sure you don’t end up bothering your neighbours. Also, if you are living in student housing and you are sharing a kitchen with seven other people, don’t play on the kitchen table all day, unless you don’t mind rolling eyes, death stares and being left out of flat dinners. Just saying.
So why should you actually try out/start playing table tennis? During the first lockdown that we faced, many people, including me, suffered some loss of motivation and some type of mental drainage. This time round, however, I feel mentally stronger and I like to think that playing table tennis has something to do with it. Exercising in general is a great way to keep mentally and physically fit, but Killerspin.com offers some of the great health benefits which apply to table tennis in particular. For one, it stimulates important sections of the brain such as the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex when you are anticipating a shot. It can also enhance your reflexes as, “due to the fast-paced, short distance nature of the sport, both gross and fine muscle movements are improved” as well as develop your hand-eye coordination as it “stimulates mental alertness and concentration and develops mental acuity.” All of these together can help keep your brain sharp. This is due to the fact that table tennis is “highly aerobic, uses both the upper and lower body [and] also utilizes many different areas of the brain simultaneously as you are tracking the ball, planning shots and strategies, and figuring out spins.” It can also improve your balance, burns a fair amount of calories (around 300/hour) and it’s easier on the joints, so it also applies to “people who had back surgery, history of back problems [or those] who are tired of twisting their ankles while playing some other sports.” Fun fact: Last week I slipped and fell twice on some ice while playing table tennis outside, but as long as you are not so addicted that you also play during snowstorms, the chance of injuring yourself is minimal.
Another great thing is that table tennis doesn’t discriminate. You can compete against anyone, no matter the sex, age or level of skill (although most of us will likely get hammered by a professional player, even if they are 6 years old and can barely reach the table). Table tennis is also used in retirement homes to treat Alzheimer and dementia due to the fact that it “activates various areas of the brain simultaneously, players can stimulate their overall state of awareness”.
At a personal level, table tennis gives me a freedom to express myself, as I am really competitive in everything I do. It also releases a lot of tension; just one forehand smash or a looping backhand on the corner of the table is sometimes enough, plus it feels soo good. But table tennis is also intrinsically connected to some of my most treasured memories, for example I will always remember playing against my cousin for hours every summer at our grandparents’ country house. It has also helped me get through some tougher times i.e. in the army where I would take a break from my asphyxiating daily routine and play a game with other soldiers or even officers (there was some really intense competition over there actually, which brings up Fun fact no2: In 2017, the Greek national team were obliterated by trainee soldiers of the artillery in a friendly game losing 17 out of 19 sets, with most of them retiring or moving to squash after such a crushing defeat, while the trainee soldiers took over the national team).
So, to wrap it up as I am really craving a game right now, two things are for sure: one, if you are bored and feeling down don’t get completely whiff-whaff; ring a friend, pick up a paddle and try playing on your kitchen table, I can assure you that even if you are completely awful you will be feeling a lot better at the end.
Oh, and two, if I ever end up in a retirement home, those old fools would never know what hit them.