Both my daughters, Anaga (16) and Ananya (12), are avid table tennis players. They love the game, take it as seriously as possible and try to never miss a practice session or a tournament. Well, at least most of the time :-). Of course, I would not classify them as top notch players, but they do their best and that is the most I can ask of them.
So are they national players? Nope. Are they Kerala state players. Not yet. They have been part of the Ernakulam district team, and represented their school in State CBSE playoffs. Of course, both of them have represented Kerala in the National CBSE games in 2013 and 2015, and are getting better every day.
And they keep at it, and I love the fact that they do so. For what is the alternative? Staying in and watching TV? Sleeping after school? Playing computer games? Fiddling with the cell phone and texting? At an age where most girls give up sports in favor of good ol’ studies, I am thrilled that they want to spend 2-3 hours daily on TT.
But more than the fact that they keep themselves fit and have an absolutely awesome time during the table tennis season (usually they play 8-10 tournaments between July and November), I have been amazed at the kind of lessons table tennis has taught my daughters over the last 4 years. Not just about the sport, but about life itself. Don’t believe me? Read on…..
Lesson number 1: LIFE IS NOT FAIR – Think match fixing happens only at the international level in Cricket? Nyep. It happens at every level possible. Match fixing happens, fixtures get changed to accommodate higher ranked players or the local team, and players just don’t have a choice but to go with the tide. And this is not confined to just one tournament. Every tournament is just about the same. Yup, life, as in sports, is just not fair and they have learnt to make the best of it.
Lesson number 2: THERE IS A REAL WORLD WITH REAL PEOPLE OUT THERE – As parents, we tend to cushion our children from most harsh realities. We give them the comforts we did not have, try to create opportunities we would have loved and generally spend money and time to give them the best environment possible. As they travel from Kalpetta to Trivandrum, my kids have understood that not all of their friends are as well off, well-mannered or well-adjusted. On the other hand, they have seen kids who cannot speak 2 sentences in English, thrash the living daylights off champions from sophisticated schools. They have seen kids from rural areas leave their family behind and stay in hostels to get the best training as possible. These kids do not have parties, sleepovers, or pizza dinners. But they are smart, funny and great kids to be with. Apart from being great players.
Lesson number 3: SPORTS DOES NOT CREATE SPORTSMEN – Another myth busted. You would think kids who play sports would quickly learn the concepts of fairness, sportsmanship and fair play. Nyep again. I have seen kids (and their parents and coaches) use every trick in the book to win. Forget fair play – if they could win without playing, even better. Every arsenal is used – mind games, word games, shots aimed at the body, refusing to shake hands after a match and intimidation. My daughters have gone past the stage where they whine or complain about their opponent’s behavior. They understand that this is part of the game, and have learnt to deal with it.
Lesson number 4: LIFE DEMANDS FLEXIBILITY, HARD WORK AND A SENSE OF HUMOR – As we go through life, nothing makes it easier than the ability to be flexible. To work hard. And to smile in midst of the toughest situations. As they play multiple games and tournaments (where they usually lose), it is extremely hard to get back with the same sense of dedication and hope. But that they do so has amazed me every time. To lose a match in front of your friends, colleagues, team mates, coaches and parents can be incredibly painful. And demoralizing. I simply would not have been able to do it myself. But there they are, the very next day, getting ready to go for a practice session again. They actually can laugh about their losses. Not immediately, but pretty quickly. I am still smarting from a badminton game I lost in college……
Lesson number 5: LIFE IS ABOUT CONNECTING WITH PEOPLE – My daughters meet all kinds of players from all kinds of backgrounds. They have learnt to deal with different characters, sleep on benches and floors, use the worst toilets ever, and eat the most unappetizing dishes ever cooked. But what entices them back to every tournament or the practice sessions is the presence of their friends. That camaraderie is something they thrive on, and it just gets better as most tournaments have the same crowd. They now feel part of this huge table tennis fraternity, and would never miss an opportunity to connect with them again.
And the best part? These are life lessons I started learning only when I started to work in the real world. My daughters get a chance to learn these so early on in their life. And as a mother, it is my duty to teach them these, but that I do not need to do so feels heavenly! They have learnt it all themselves, away from home, among people they have grown to understand, like, and respect.
Thank you table tennis! You probably are getting to be a better parent than I am!