by Emily Giambalvo – The Red & Black – University of Georgia Sports
It’s far more complex than the casual game you played in your friend’s garage, and it’s something much greater than the amateur version you participated in during summer camp.
For a small group of Georgia students, table tennis is not merely a hobby. It’s a sport.
Hidden in one of the lower level gyms of the Ramsey Center, junior Kyle Smith leans against a table as he awaits the arrival of his teammates, the only ones who fully appreciate the sport’s mental component.
“The biggest thing that people don’t realize, because it’s hard for the untrained eyes, is the complexity of competitive table tennis,” Smith said. “Once heavy, heavy spins get involved, it becomes a very thoughtful game.”
Smith, along with his teammates, recently finished first in the Georgia division tournament of the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association.
Despite a slight challenge when the team faced off against Georgia Tech, the overall victory was monumental for Smith as it was his first tournament since transferring to Georgia.
“We had a small struggle against Tech, but we won,” Smith said. “That was nice. Especially coming into the school and making new friends and having a first victory together, it was kind of a bonding thing.”
If the team repeats its success at another divisional tournament in the spring, it will advance to the regional competition.
At Regionals, the team will attempt to earn the opportunity to play on the national level.
Kun Wang, a Physics graduate student, is the team’s No. 1 ranked player, but finds worth in more than the club’s wins and losses.
“In this group, you may have those friends coming from different cultures or different regions or fields,” Wang said. “You may never reach without this activity, so that’s the most amazing part.”
While the team consists of members of diverse backgrounds, the sport itself is not new to freshman Junwei Ren.
Since much of his childhood was spent in China, Ren played table tennis every day with his peers after elementary school classes.
Unfortunately, when he moved to the United States five years ago, his high school did not provide the same opportunity.
“In high school, I didn’t have a ping pong club, so when I come to UGA, I found the ping pong team, so I decided to join table tennis,” Ren said. “It has kind of helped me to get involved in UGA community.”
Despite its willingness to accept new members, the team often struggles with growth because students are deterred from the sport before they try to play. It may not be that they don’t enjoy yhe sport, but that they are scared away by what they see.
“I saw people entering this room, but when they come, they just stop by and watch for a while,” Wang said. “They might be amazed by a few points, but then they left because they feel like that’s too hard for them.”
Smith thinks this results from the common misconception that table tennis is a simple game.
From an outsider’s perspective it may appear as if the ball is simply hit back and forth, but for upper-level players, complex strategy is involved.
“It becomes a game of kind of like chess,” Smith said. “When you serve you need to know what kind of spin you’re putting on the ball because it’s going to tell you what’s going to come back. So you’re kind of thinking three to five hits ahead, trying to anyway.”
Plenty of people play table tennis with thier friends in a recreational setting, but those who only play in such a way or watch may never fully comprehend this crucial aspect of the game.
However, this understanding could be exactly what causes one to change his perspective.
This was the case for at least one player.
“There is a big difference between recreation and competitive, and I had never seen that until I came to college,” Smith said. “So I just kind of fell in love with it.”
Georgia’s table tennis team recently finished first in the Georgia division tournament of the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association.