Are you a table tennis bad boy or girl?
We all get angry or upset sometimes
I don’t care who you are, you will have times when things don’t go your way and that inner demon pops out. You may scream or shout, you may throw your bat or kick the table or use verbal abuse towards your opponent or yourself.
Should bad behaviour be nullified?
Sport has multiple benefits; fitness, benefits our brains, competition, drama and entertainment, social, unification etc.
Today sportsmen and women are expected to conduct themselves in a professional manner otherwise they are heavily penalised.
The professional conduct often makes the sport a little duller and athletes seem robotic like. We see little emotion, we hear little passion and we feel little tension. Back in the ’90s when I was in my teens watching sport on TV, sporting athletes seemed to possess plenty of charisma and characters.
Sport in the ’90s
Athletes of the 90’s that have stuck in my head not just because of their sporting ability but also because of their personalities: Andre Agassi, Tiger Woods, Mike Tyson, Michael Johnson, Jean Michel Saive, Michael Jordan, Eric Cantona, Hulk Hogan, Mia Hamm, William Sisters, Monica Seles, Wayne Gretzky, Michael Schumacher and many many others.
What set these athletes apart?
They were seemingly given more freedom to express themselves as opposed to today’s sporting world. Now I’m not saying go and Karate kick a fan, or say, “ I want to eat your children” is good conduct. Everything has a balance and of course, these athletes pushed those boundaries on occasion. What I am saying, I want to see the athlete’s character.
What is a character?
A few years back we saw Zhang Jike kicking and breaking a barrier after winning the world cup against Ma Long. He was slandered by ITTF and heavily fined. Zhang, is still regarded as one of China’s biggest sporting heroes. Naturally, that’s mainly due to his amazing achievements but he stood out and developed the biggest fan base in table tennis (China) due to his personal expression.
To Grow a Sport you must have Characters
Table tennis is not football or basketball where you make millions upon millions yet table tennis players seem to be caged as personalities. John McEnroe lit up Tennis back in the ’80s with his verbal and physical outbursts. No one from that era or even today say, what a bad role model or nasty person he was. Of course, he would have been a Marmite (some would have loved and others would have hated his character) yet he was an amazing athlete a huge tennis attraction. Even today he is talked about and remembered due to his antics. Sport is an array of skill between people but it becomes a lot more fascinating when there’s drama involved.
I recently saw footage of Fang playing in China, there was a dispute between the umpire and Fang. After a minute play commenced and Fang lost the next point, he stepped over to the towel box and kicked it in rage. The box had moved naturally but did not break, no one was hurt and yet Fang was fined £5k and banned for two league matches.
Are we stopping our sport from being a spectator sport?
As spectators, we want to see athletes with character,
I’m not saying; swear, kick things, abuse people and your surroundings. But be giving a little more freedom to express yourself. Kicking a box that has little value and you have caused no harm to your opponent or surrounding nor yourself should be given a warning sanction. Not bans and big fines!
I know lots will disagree with me and feel that professional conduct is important especially for the younger generation. And you are correct how we conduct ourselves is very important, I pride myself and my students in professional behaviour. but at the same time, I encourage the expression of personality.
I further Argue
We are all humans (the ones who are reading this lol) and as long as we are not being malicious harming or damaging others or our surroundings then we should be given a little more leeway in the expression of feelings and external outbursts.
We let our kids play games like fortnight (where characters have guns and other weapons) used to kill. You will never see a sports person pulling out a weapon mid-event and go out to kill, at worst-case scenario a fight will break loose.
Without characters, we are unable to connect to these athletes and won’t want to watch or follow them. Some may resonate with happy characters like Usain Bolt and some see themselves in him. Others may be cocky like Mohammed Ali, and want to shout out “I’m the greatest” and some may like the iceman Jan-Ove Waldner’s approach (silent assassin) little facial expression but magical ability expressing artistic gestures via ability. Some might like to let their tension out like John McEnroe “are you kidding me” and have a few words with the ref. All these characters create and make sports special. No disrespect but few Russian Athletes are remembered (even though some have the extraordinary ability) they often are expressionless therefore forgotten quickly.
I believe we should not encourage bad behaviour but allow personalities to be expressed. This means go easy a little less harsh on disciplinary especially if the behaviour is not malicious or pointed directly at others. More often than not anger is aimed at oneself and should be granted a little more. If conduct is directed at others, then yes, of course, a stern/harsh penalty is entitled.
Many remember Chester as a table tennis English table tennis character, often unmentioned, he was also England no.1. I’ve heard many stories about this legend and some amazed me of which I wish I had been privileged to have witnessed. Apparently, he was so charismatic, controversial and entertaining that crowds of up to 2000 people would come to watch his local league matches! Let’s be honest today’s England no.1 does not get that kind of crowd’s for the national championships. People want to see the skills and ability of course but they also want to feel as if they know or understand your personality. Chester was a man who wore his heart on his sleeve and to date, we do not have table tennis player with such a following.
Expression leads to success
Every successful man or women in the world has expressed themselves one way or another. And because of that expression, it allowed others to connect with that person by seeing themselves in that light.
It’s nice to have different colours or do you want to watch a black and white TV?
Written by Eli Baraty
eBaTT (Eli Baraty Academy of Table Tennis)
Coach Me Table Tennis
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