Ping pong, or table tennis, is a fixture of childhood. Lots of us have fond memories of whizzing around the table, paddle in hand, ready for the next serve. But playing opportunities fall by the wayside as life gets busier. Public ping pong tables are here to solve that problem. They’re increasingly widespread, with facilities popping up in parks and public spaces all over the country, and bring the joy of the sport back into adult life. The Games Room at Paddington Central is the latest addition to that trend.
Brits have a special relationship with ping pong, as it was invented by the Victorians as an after-dinner alternative to lawn tennis. It quickly gained popularity and by the 1900s it was a worldwide hit. In 1988, it became an Olympic Sport, gaining legitimacy as a physically and mentally demanding pursuit. But despite its athletic inclination, table tennis remains a fun and enjoyable pastime played in basements, parks and games rooms around the world.
Ping pong’s appeal is easy to understand. It is accessible for beginners and children, relatively risk-free and flexible enough for a casual game or a serious competition. “The unique thing about ping pong is that absolutely anyone can play it,” says Julie Snowdon from Table Tennis England. “There are no barriers to who can play it – any age, any gender and any level of ability. It’s probably the only sport that anyone can immediately have a go and play, and you can play in any sort of setting.”
As well as being fun, ping pong can be great way to exercise, which makes it the perfect lunchtime exploit for desk-bound office workers. “It gets you active; it gets your heart racing,” says Julie. “And it’s fun!”
Part of the excitement of ping pong comes from the small size of the table, so players must move and think quickly to keep the ball in play. This means it’s an excellent way to stimulate brain activity. “There are lots of mental benefits,” explains Julie. “Research has shown that it activates the part of the brain that helps with quick thinking, and it is found to be beneficial for people suffering with Alzheimer’s.”
A game can be whatever length or intensity the players wish, and can be squeezed in during lunchtime or at the end of a busy day. If you’re in Paddington, head over to the Games Room on Kingdom Street to test your skills with the paddle. The Games Room is an outdoor space with a ping pong table, air hockey and seats for spectators. But don’t worry if it’s busy, there are four more tables by the canal under the Westway. So grab your paddle, stimulate your brain and have some fun.
Ping pong tips
It’s not hard to get started, even for complete beginners. London-based table tennis coach Rachel Kachi shares some tips.
- Grab and go. Rachel recommends trying out the ‘shakehand grip’ when holding the paddle. Grip the handle with your full hand but extending your index finger over the paddle board for better control. “It’s more functional, and you can get more out of the bat that way,” she explains.
- Get your footing. You want to remain agile on your feet. Rachel recommends the ‘ready position’, with one leg away from the table for maximum maneuverability.
- Give it a try. For complete beginners, Rachel’s advice is to try it out and see what works for you. “If you want to play more seriously you can look for a Table Tennis England registered coach or join a local club,” she says. “You can also try YouTube coaches like PingSkills."