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My Theory

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    Posted: 03/19/2024 at 3:22pm


This is My Theory. It is mine. The U.S. is in the grip of a national, cultural collective unconscious that resists and denies table tennis. It creates resistance and denial of table tennis among those within its grasp. What it is and how it works are uncertain, to say the least. It appears to have qualities we might liken to group hypnosis on a national scale.  "Pure influence" might be another label, as we cannot identify any entity or motivation behind it. It is pervasive within American culture. We cannot see it at work. We can ascertain its existence by its result. 


Table tennis is reported to be the second most popular participation sport in the world, behind only soccer. This is a simple statistic, but many in the U.S. just will not understand it. When I first heard it I was an experienced ping pong player just entering table tennis. I did not understand it. I asked, "But who ARE all these people who are playing? Is this counting every grandmother in the world who plays with the kids for 10 minutes at Christmas? Well, probably not, but it did not make any sense to me. It just did not compute. I could not begin to imagine a global network of clubs and leagues. My question about who was playing did not seek an answer. It really was just a dumb challenge, a vague expression of disbelief. It was denial of table tennis. It was the work of the collective unconscious. 


Although I learned many years ago that the rest of the world plays table tennis, the scale did not really hit home until I read that there were over 600,000 players in the German leagues in a recent year. I take the global popularity as proof that while ping pong is fun, table tennis is a lot more fun. It would appear that the natural order of things would be for table tennis to be as popular here as in the rest of the world. An intervention has been required to maintain ping pong as the national version of this sport. That intervention has been the collective unconscious of which I theorize.   


This phenomenon has escaped recognition for three reasons. First, it has successfully masqueraded as a simple social preference. Even those of us in the table tennis world have bought the fiction that the country has chosen ping pong as its national version of the sport. It is not a simple social choice. American social preferences abound. Cheeseburgers, football, country music. We know them and love them. We do not appreciate ping pong as an American game. We do not celebrate it. We don't own it. We did not choose it. Ping pong just "is". Whereas table tennis just "isn't".  No cultural preference has been expressed, nor any choice made. Or at least not that anyone seems to be aware of. Well, we might have a tiny sense that there are a lot of crazy asians out there who get too carried away with a kids game (see Forrest Gump) but that cultural separation from table tennis is pretty much unconscious. 


Social preferences tend to change. Compare table tennis and soccer in America. In the 1960s, when I went to high school in Colorado, nobody played soccer. That was a simple social preference. There may have been growing pains in soccer, natural resistance to change, etc.,  but they were overcome. And now look. There are more pro and college soccer matches on tv every day than you can shake a stick at. 

 

BTW, a year ago I noticed that the Chinese Super League was listed on the ESPN program guide. I checked it out. It was soccer. 


For 50 years the best minds in table tennis have brainstormed and worked tirelessly  to promote the sport with zero success. These have included  extremely intelligent and motivated people who in some cases have dedicated their lives to the mission. Dead end. At least that is the impression I have. There appears to have been no change in popularity of table tennis in America. This while not only soccer but  many other sports, including some I never even heard of, are growing like crazy. Promotion has not changed anything. To paraphrase Yogi Berra, if people don't want to come to your club, you can't stop them!  Evidence of an intervention.


I understand that theories cannot be proven. Anecdotal evidence would help make the case for this collective unconscious. If we accept that table tennis is really a lot of fun to play, then it follows that simple exposure to the game should attract players. I played fairly regularly for 40 years with the best American in town. He loved the sport and was highly motivated to promote it. He ran a University Club for many years and later a city club, directed some tournaments, etc. He put on many exhibitions and coaching clinics in high schools. He encouraged people to come to the club. They never did! Failure of promotion to succeed has been endlessly distressing to the small American table tennis world. It has not been understood.


Another anecdote. A simplified version of events. Several years ago some Chinese friends lobbied our city recreation center to expand its meager table tennis/ping pong venue. The Chinese guys had had to buy the one existing table themselves in the first place. They made a well reasoned presentation, referencing healthy exercise, cultural inclusion, high demand for the existing table, etc. Without a better response at her disposal, the facility manager was reduced to shouting, "It's only ping pong!!!" The lobbying did not succeed. The collective unconscious appears to function mainly by fostering indifference. It can be oppositional if needed.  It does not have a zero tolerance for table tennis in America. Just a low tolerance. More than once I was called "too good" by facility staff. It was said with disdain.


I played in the University Club for 20 years. Every year one or two incoming new students would find the club. These were basement players who may have won a high school championship or just hoped they might be "good". We tried to be encouraging and take it easy with them, but they quickly saw that they could not compete. They did get to experience incoming loops. It is my take that the spin was just too intimidating. They knew that they were not going to learn to return those shots, much less create them.  They never came back. Exposure to the game did not overcome some kind of deterrent or resistance. I should specify that these were American students.  International students, even those at lower levels, tended to return regularly.  Add your own anecdotes. 


Personally, I found the first incoming loop to be inspirational.  It was mind blowing, exciting. It came after 19 years of basement play. At that time I believed that I played with a lot of spin and knew perfectly well how much spin could be put on the ball. That first loop I received had so much more spin than physics could possibly allow that I knew I was experiencing magic. I had to learn it. For 30 years I pondered why nobody else seemed to have the same reaction.  It even seemed that there was a common negative reaction among basement players to heavy spin. Americans seemed ignorant of spin in table tennis and sometimes strangely proud of it. I sort of accepted this, but it never felt right. All ball games involve spin. Some more than others. Americans play with various spin in various games all the time. They appreciate and enjoy spin. There is nothing more iconic in American sports than the curveball.  So why not in table tennis? Why are we so ignorant of the spin? It did not compute. For years.


I finally saw a glimmer of that of which I write when I substituted "innocent" for "ignorant".  Americans are innocent of table tennis and its spin. This is a basic, generalized, pervasive  innocence in our brains when it comes to table tennis. Our brains have been shielded, protected somehow from the sport. We've been brainwashed. Oh, there is a slight public awareness of course, but squeezing table tennis into a tiny niche (as in Olympics only) in our concept of the sport is a way of denying it. In particular we have been shielded from table tennis' attractive qualities. The American public just does not find anything appealing about table tennis. Not only that, we cannot understand or appreciate table tennis' appeal to others. Have you ever heard the comment, "they play like robots" ?  Recall earlier comments about denial of global popularity. This innocence just is not natural. It has required an intervention. 


The second reason this collective unconscious has escaped detection is that it is unconscious. That makes it pretty elusive. By the way, may I start calling it the "hypnosis"?. It is shorter and conveys basically the same sense of a pure influence. We can call  this phenomenon whatever we want.  It. won't help us define or understand it, as far as I can tell.  While our efforts to pin it down may be in vain, thankfully we are able to identify its root cause: basements. 


Let's review. Before WWII table tennis and ping pong were pretty much the same thing. It was popular in the U.S., and we had players who could compete internationally. Then two things happened at about the same time. First, there was a post war boom of single family homes loosely grouped around cities. It was suburbia. These homes had basements. Following the war, people in suburbia were raising families. They also were affluent and looking for recreation. They could play ping pong at home. There were some basements around the rest of the world, of course, but they tended to be used for work, storage, or more living space. The 1950s and 60s were America's play time.  


At the same time table tennis was growing around the world. As in war and some other sports, the evolution of table tennis has been driven by advances in equipment. Rackets became so much faster and spinnier that the game could no longer fit in a basement.  The game was changing dramatically, but American ping pong was not. It remained basically the same for 50 years. Our awareness of the game also did not change. The divide between table tennis and ping pong has continually grown. We can blame basements. 


I have described this hypnosis as cultural. It is American culture that is shaped by the hypnosis. It appears that the influence of another culture nullifies the effect of the hypnosis. It is not for me to define what is American culture or who is in it. This just seems to be how it works. The hypnosis does cross racial lines. 


The third reason that the hypnosis has remained undetected stems indirectly from the fact that ours is not a spectator sport. It is a participation sport. Table tennis holds a unique position in the world of sports in that all the other popular sports, the major rich ones, are both. Only table tennis is not a spectator sport. We kind of know this to be true, but we need to look more closely.   


It is popularly assumed that the game is not enjoyed more by spectators because it is too fast and the ball is too small. We can't see it well enough. We should observe right away that there cannot be outdoor stadiums full of crowds watching table tennis. Indoor only of course. Huge indoor crowds may exist only in Asia. Of little relevance to the U.S., as the asian scene includes social and even political influences that are beyond us. 


I stand before you as a qualified spectator. I have watched table tennis on tv every day for 20 years, missing maybe 6 days total. In 1995 I drove cross country to Atlanta to watch Waldner, et al, in an Olympic warmup team tournament. I am a big fan. I am basing my assessment of what is shown on tv on the current coverage of WTT tournaments on Youtube. 


There are three problems that limit spectator appeal. First, in general we can see the ball well and the speed does not seem too great. Closer inspection reveals that we cannot see many of the balls land near the side or end, and we cannot see a ball missing closely. We think we can see much of this, but we cannot. What happens is that our brains gather additional information to fill in the blanks. The instant that a ball hits near the end line, or doesn't hit, we look for an umpire's raised hand or at the body language of the nearest player to tell us what happened. The players' reaction is instant, and so is our reading of it. This occurs so quickly and repeatedly that it appears seamless. It doesn't look like it is happening. We "understand" that the ball hit, and we move on. We acclimate to this reality. But I doubt the public is as skilled at these mental gymnastics. The speed is too great, and the ball is too small, as suspected. 


The second reason table tennis doesn't make it as a spectator sport is that there is an obstruction. Someone is standing in the way. That would be the player on the close side of the table. There are some viewing angles in which this does not occur, such as from the ceiling looking down and from the side of the net. We avoid these angles when we can. When they are on tv, we complain about them. It's because we don't like them. From enjoyable viewing angles, obstruction by a player varies from horrible to now very little on the WTT videos due to multiple cameras. But it's still there a little bit. And the WTT vids are a rarity. 


The third reason that table tennis is not a big time spectator sport is that we cannot see the spin. Spin is what make the game great. That we cannot see it is a major loss. Sure we can see big swings that make big arcing shots. But that is just a hint. We only know that the ball has an insane amount of spin because our experience as players tells us that such is the case. We can add interpretation to what we see. Those who do not loop are watching a lesser game. How about serves? Can you read Ma Long's serves? How about high level club serves? Still maybe not. We  can't see the spin. The push is a sort of invisible shot. It looks so simple, but is that really just mild underspin? Maybe not. When a deceptive shot happens, the players get to enjoy it. We can feel spin in our hands through the racket. The viewing public can't quite tell what is happening. Nets and edges? Forget about it. 


Table tennis is not a spectator sport. Yes, it is televised around the world, and yes, it is fun to watch, but this is a matter of numbers. Not enough people watch it.  Even in Europe. The connection between not being a spectator sport and the hypnosis, is that without the money that comes with being a spectator sport, table tennis in America has been too weak to defend itself against the hypnosis. We remain in its embrace. If table tennis were a spectator sport it would be rich and famous like golf and tennis. Even in the U.S. The marketplace would not be denied. 


The main weakness of My Theory is that it is impossible.  I can detect no evidence that the hypnosis has ever been communicated to or by anyone.  No communication by any means.  How could it have become pervasive without any communication? Can a collective unconscious just arise and spread without a starter or a spreading medium? Doesn't sound likely.


The main strength of My Theory is that it does explain what is going on with table tennis in the U.S. 


What else can be said about this group hypnosis, collective unconscious,  pure influence sort of thing? I hope to learn more from this forum.  My Theory is just a seat of the pants, intuitive rough draft of an idea. It is mine.





Edited by Spektator - 03/19/2024 at 4:12pm
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Simon_plays Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03/19/2024 at 4:37pm
Come on....LOL
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote passifid Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03/19/2024 at 6:54pm
My first post in over a year:
did you drink prior to posting?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote cole_ely Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03/19/2024 at 7:40pm
it helps if you let them use their old slick dead paddles and don't try to force a spinny paddle before they are ready.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Baal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03/19/2024 at 9:15pm
Your post is too long.  I decline to read it.  There is literally nothing one could say about table tennis that warrants that many words.  
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Slowhand Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03/20/2024 at 1:15pm
The question seems to be: Why don't tt clubs in the US do well? The answers: Recreational tt in the US is played mostly in basements, spaces which are too small to develop good skills. And tt is not a good spectator sport, so lacks the popularity and money that come from big crowds and televised events.

I think the spectator sport explanation is more or less the conventional wisdom and certainly part of the explanation. The basement theory is interesting but wrong, as tt is played in basements all over the world. A different version of the basement theory is that because people can already play in basements they don't need clubs. Probably a contributor, but again doesn't distinguish the US from many other countries where tt clubs are more popular. I think the most important factor is the difficulty of the sport. Pickleball is easy and exploded in popularity, whereas tt beyond the basement level is hard and never will. I do agree that cultural attitudes about the attractiveness or challenge of difficult things might play a part.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote stiltt Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03/20/2024 at 4:20pm
In the following, I'll stay in the traditional "boys meet girls" area just to keep things simple, please do not see anything sexist or anti gay, I am neither.
 
What about the mate factor? is it fair to say that plenty of cute girls like to watch American football, baseball and basketball because the dudes are super strong, competitive and thus attractive to them?

Now we could ask ourselves what is it we could change in the table tennis rules that make a high level player attractive to girls. How about a new sort of biathlon where the winner of a table tennis point slaps the opponent and gets to serve afterwards. I guarantee skyrocketing audiences.


Please note that the idea is not that silly as plenty of table tennis technique applies to professional slapping in the face: weight transfer, body rotation, wrist snap and what not.


Edited by stiltt - 03/20/2024 at 5:55pm
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote stiltt Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03/21/2024 at 6:49am
joke aside, I say table tennis does not have to be hugely popular, there is value in its actual state: it is hard to learn and it is hard to progress and that's why many people visit and quit. The ones who stick to it and get better are special people. Their sense of belonging is higher. 

We can switch from 

"My Oh why table tennis is not more popular? it should!

to

"Because the steeper learning curve, it takes more passion, guts, commitment and sacrifice in the long run to get better at it and that's why we'll always remain a small community with a higher percentage of strong people."

All the people I know who are good at table tennis and live a passion through their journey are interesting. They can be arrogant and egoist like in any community but they are never boring. There is value in that certainty.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote 3000.artists Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03/23/2024 at 11:53pm
maybe the ittf took our spinny balls away to try and seduce the American mind and increase the market. Truly a post Kamina would be proud of- its spirals all the way down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote WingTT Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03/24/2024 at 12:30am
ChatGPT, that you? Wink
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Fulanodetal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03/29/2024 at 2:23am
Post is too long.

Sounds like a conspiracy theory. (Based on first paragraph)

FdT.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote stiltt Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03/29/2024 at 2:56am
Originally posted by Fulanodetal Fulanodetal wrote:

Post is too long.

Sounds like a conspiracy theory. (Based on first paragraph)

FdT.
Hello, welcome bacj too, t's good to know you're still around.
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