I first learned how to play table tennis when I was 6. My mom used to play when she was in elementary school, then in college. It was hard to find a table to play in China when I was little. We often sneak into my father’s work place, a table that was employee only. I started with pips and shake-hand. That was the most popular style in China at the time. And it was how my mom played, so that’s what she can teach me.
I started learning the Chinese style, which is hit forward rather than loop. Besides, my mom doesn’t know how to loop. Within a few years, I was pretty good at hitting forehand. Of course, my backhand was just pushing. Flip and hit is much harder, and shake-hand style for penhold was not invented yet. My main weapon was forehand, but always had trouble to defend loops. At that time, I was more interested in other things, like pool. I would often skip table tennis and go play pool in the next room.
After I can to United States and started college, I found a group students and alumni who are passionate about table tennis. I started going to practice regularly, twice a week. I started going to collegiate and USATT tournaments, but I lost more than I won at Team B level, and have a rating of lower than 1200. I never got much better than when I was a 13 year old kid in China. It’s mostly because I just want to exercise and socialize with friends. I never cared about winning, or wanted to win. I just got more fluent in what I can do. After I graduated college and started studying for my PhD, school consumed my life, and I had no time to play table tennis. Even when I started my postdoc in New York City, I never got to play regularly because the clubs in upper west side of New York are not friendly.
After I found a real job in Hartford, CT, I found this great club in Hartford with a lot of great players. The people there made my feel like I was back in college again. They are eager to help me improve my techniques and not afraid of playing with someone who is worse in skill. I bought a better paddle, albeit not customized for my style. I started care about winning and wanted to win. I improved serve and changed strokes to at least reduced missed hits.
Then I really started to get better when I started to look for Youtube videos of Chinese coaches online. There are some great videos where coaches talked to amateur players and help them improve their game. This helps a lot because the amateurs are just as bad as I am. When I used to watch world class player online, I never learned the process of growth and just try to mimic the really high level stuff. I went through all the videos and I can find and started with the really basic things like swing without ball. The mostly important things I learned was swing forward and how to use wrist and waist.
While working at my new job, I was fortunate enough to be able to play table tennis at work for a break. Have constant access to a table, albeit thin and crappy, helped a lot because I can practice serves and simple forehand stroke whenever I wanted. I played with coworkers during break for doubles. None of them are better than me, but while I teach them about table tennis, I realize what my strokes looks like, and helped me discovered my own problems.
Just a few days ago, I figured out how to do forehand loops. I was playing with a big guy at the club and figured out how to use wrist to loop and not miss the ball too often. I was so excited. I learned it without a professional coach, and after 28 years since I first played it. It was the relentless pursuit that help me get to this point. And I’m sure I will keep improve if I keep trying.