I was never much of an athlete as a child or teenager. But I made the high school baseball team, yet didn't letter. In my junior year, the coach emphasized winning, and played only the seniors. In my senior year, few of the previous year's players returned, so he instituted a "re-building" program, and played all the juniors. By year's end, I still hadn't gotten in enough innings to qualify for a letter, so I quit. Mr. Sugiyama, wherever you are, that's embittered me for almost fifty years. You did me wrong. Although I played a lot of "sand-lot" basketball, touch football, and some tennis, I was never very good at any of them. If I'd played on teams instead of pick-up hoops, I might have become a decent forward, but I never had any training. Serious basketball always seemed almost "violent" to me, a lot of struggling and shoving and blocking going on--so I tended not to feel comfortable at it.
One sport I did excel at was table-tennis, or ping-pong. We had a ping-pong table in the barn, and there was a lot of playing in the neighborhood. The next door neighbor, Mr. Parker, was a devotee, and pushed us all to compete harder. In those days, we all held the racket in the "Western" fashion--as a "handshake"--and the speed of play was relatively slow. Occasionally, we'd smash one, but in general we just tried to keep the opponent moving from side to side and back and forth, in order to force defensive errors. We served "illegally"--hiding the ball in our hand instead of tossing it in the air as the rules stipulate. I was pretty good, then, but not in a professional sense.
When I got to college, in the late 1960's, my first dormitory roommate was a skinny little guy, but he was a better player than I was, at least at first. When he washed out after his freshman semester, I traded roommates, and began to compete with other guys in the rec room under the cafeteria complex. These were Chinese boys, who'd come to America to study engineering. They were quiet, didn't speak much English, and kept pretty much to themselves. But they loved ping-pong, and they were very good at it.
When I first tried playing against them, I was usually skunked 7-0. They were impatient with me, because I was an inferior player, held the paddle incorrectly (they held it in the correct manner, with the paddle pointing down from their fingers), and served illegally. But I was determined. I tried holding the paddle their way, and serving by tossing the ball up, but it was slow going. But I kept at it. By the second year, I was making strides. I'd still get beaten badly, 21-5, or 11-1, etc. But I was managing to keep the volleys going some, and I was increasing the "english" (or spins). Eventually I was able to put a little pressure on them. There were three guys who regularly played in the evenings, and one, a shorter fellow, who was the best.
One evening, he challenged me to a five game set. He beat me the first game 11-1, but I stayed with him in the second game, carrying a lead at match-point. We traded leads for five rounds, before I beat him with a wicked back-spin shot which twisted off the edge of his paddle. It was the first time I had ever beaten any of them, and it really surprised me. And them too. After than, I was more accepted, and we became friendlier with each other. I'd passed a test, and was allowed to be considered an equal on their turf.
Years later, I bought a table for our family, and my son took it up. He probably had more potential than I ever had had. He had a natural finesse. He could juggle balls, was a hacky-sack champion, and a star little league pitcher. But he lacked determination, and didn't play after he left home in the late 1980's. The old table is still in our garage, folded up and covered with dust. My wife now has tunnel carpal syndrome from too much mousing (she's a software engineer). I tell her the best thing she could do would be to play a few rounds of ping-pong, but we never do. She used to be pretty good herself, though didn't like to move her feet very much.
Competitive ping-pong is not the casual diversion. You have to be fit, have lightning reflexes, excellent eyesight, and great manual dexterity. Things happen very fast. Once you get over the shock of the speed of play, you can concentrate on building a little subtlety into your shots. That's when it gets really fun. There have been attempts recently to change some aspects of the traditional game: Making the ball bigger, shortening the games by reducing the point totals, and the design of rackets keeps on changing. I remember when the pimpled rubber paddles came onto the market. They were expensive, but you could put a lot more english on the ball with them, than you could with the older "sand-paper" paddles.
At one point, I made a larger than normal sized paddle for myself out of ply-wood. This trick was tried by professional tennis players, a decade or two later. I'm not sure a larger paddle gives you any advantage, but it does increase the area of impact. I'm not sure what percentage of errors occurs as a result of edge-hits or sheer misses, but it can't be great.
Table-tennis is now a world class sport, and has been an Olympic competition since 1988. Unlike some contests, it's really more fun to play than to watch. I don't get much stimulation from watching good players, but put a paddle in my hand, and I'm in heaven.