You will never meet an ex-ping pong player. Once you’ve played the game once, you remain a ping pong player regardless of how old you get or how long it’s been since your last competition.
Ping pong is one of those masochistic sports-except for the Chinese-who nowadays rarely taste defeat owing to their enviable frenetic pace and skill that many of great European and American players have been unable to replicate over the years.
That’s why the sport of ping pong is shrouded in so many rituals and superstitions. But then again, which sport isn’t? When you watch ping pong for the very first time, it is easy to pick up one or two peculiarities.
For instance, you might notice that the players always rub or touch the table either near the back or the sides of the net during tournaments. Why is this the case? Is it a rule of playing ping pong? Or is it just another one of those sports superstitions? Here is why ping pong players wipe the table:
To tidy up
The act of wiping the ping pong table may be a ritual for some players but for many others it is simply an act of toweling off sweat from the hands without having to wait for the permitted 6-point towel-off interval as per regulations.
As such, when you notice a player wiping their hand at the end line, he or she might simply be wiping off droplets of sweat. Aside from sweat, the player may also be trying to get rid of small fragments of rubber that may have gathered in the hands from the paddle’s rubbery surface.
Since one does not usually have ping pong cleaners on standby during competitions, this simple act helps to get rid of the debris. When a player wipes the table, it doesn’t always mean that they’re sweaty. Some do it to keep themselves in check and rhythm; as a way to keep them focused and in the game.
Rituals such as wiping the table are powerful.
Such rituals typically arise when a player has a particularly good or super bad performance. In such occurrences, the player sits down and analyses their game intending to try to establish a cause and effect pattern.
In reviewing the events of the day, they will start to realize things like what they had for breakfast or wore before the competition. They might also pinpoint unusual things that may have happened that day such as getting a haircut from a specific barber or hearing a certain song.
If the player has a great performance, he or she will most probably attribute their success to the strange circumstance that occurred that day. He or she will try to recreate this unusual event each time before a competition to replicate the results.
To boost their game
A lot of ping pong players across the world have rituals that they exercise before every competition because they believe that it affects their performance. When you try and think about what it takes for a professional or skilled ping pong player to develop their skill and ability to excel, then it is not hard to see how rituals such as wiping the table can develop.
When ping pong players feel that the outcome of a competition is too unpredictable, rituals provide a great way for a player to gain more control. Better still, such rituals help in boosting the player’s confidence level. If a player believes that performing a particular action or repeating a behavior will make them perform better, then they probably will.
It may be a strategy
It takes the player some time to wipe the table which gives him or her plenty of time to get back their composure or possibly even come up with a new game plan for the next few minutes.
Winning, especially against worthy opponents like the Chinese is one of the hardest things to do. Therefore, if taking a minute or so to compose themselves helps, then players generally do it whenever they can.
A lot of players also use such rites as visualization or guided imagery. This ability to recall and visualize things as they were on a specific day prepares some players both mentally and physically to face the competition. Such rituals are the basis of many sports psychology blogs and books.
Are there any other pre-game superstitions or rituals?
While a champion’s skills with the paddle may be world-class, most ping pong players will admit that they’re superstitious. As such, pre-game rituals and superstitions are as varied as the players themselves.
They run the gamut from tightening shoelaces before every tournament, wiping the tables down before every set or even measuring the net just to ensure that it meets regulations standards. These rituals become so ingrained in the ping pong player’s process that they usually do not realize it until it is pointed out to them.
We’ve all seen ping pong players perform ritual movements before every tournament and heard stories about the world champion that won’t play without wiping the table or his lucky socks.
Many ping pong players wipe their hands on the table as a force of habit. A lot of them don’t even realize that they do it regularly unless someone points it out to them. Also, some players cleverly use it as a strategy to slow down the game as it usually takes a few seconds to wipe your hands before going back to the game to serve or receive. The umpires should bring the action to a halt, but it is not against the rules as of yet.
For others, this act is superstitious and must be done before every competition to make sure that things go smoothly. To the ordinary person, such peculiar rituals may appear strange and even silly. However, for many ping pong players, these small strange acts can actually go a long way in influencing their success on the field.