Table tennis is a sport enjoyed by millions of people around the world. It is an inclusive sport that can be played by people of all ages and abilities. If a player can serve and return a ball, they can play. This is one sport that does not exclude people because of a physical disability. Nor does it require significant modifications to remain open to everyone.
Table tennis has been part of the Paralympic Games since 1960. The program consists of five wheelchair divisions and five standing disabled divisions. Athletes can qualify for the Paralympics in one of three ways. They can win the IPTTC Regional Qualifications in their singles class, be one of the top internationally ranked players in their class, or they can be selected as a wildcard player.
The International Table Tennis Committee for the disabled (ITTC) began in 1976, at a time when there were no other sports organizations that catered to people with disabilities. The Committee changed its name in 2003 to the International Paralympic Table Tennis Committee (IPTTC). In 1997 the IPTTC created a website to display and maintain rankings, rules, and other general information. They were once again leading the way with their thinking as this website was the first of its kind amongst disabled sports organizations. The IPTTC continues to do a great job of getting pertinent information to people who are interested in the sport. To date, athletes from more than 100 countries have participated in IPTTC sanctioned international tournaments.
It takes practice and patience to be a world-class athlete, whether the athlete is physically disabled or not. Athletes with physical disabilities are not limited to only competing against other disabled players. Table tennis is an equalizing sport. Able-bodied and physically disabled people can compete against one another. Many competitive paralympic players began playing the sport against able-bodied friends and family members. While it can be difficult for players in wheelchairs to maneuver their chairs to play a shot, these players learn to adapt, frequently learning to effectively play a more defensive game.
Wheelchair athletes often use chairs that are specially designed to provide stability and sufficient height for the player. Regulations state that players may use cushions for height purposes, but cushions can create poor balance and affect the athletes’ level of play. Standing athletes use lightweight prostheses and orthodontics that are well suited for lateral movements. Athletes who are not able to grip a racket due to their disability use specially crafted instruments that attach the racket to the hand. Some athletes choose to simply use a bandage to affix their racket to their hand. These modifications do not give them an advantage over another player, but rather they even the playing field so that players can compete regardless of their disability.
This sport can be mentally and physically challenging, but with that challenge comes a sense of satisfaction when a player experiences success. Players who are dedicated and practice will not only build the skills necessary to be a competitive athlete, they will also gain the confidence that comes with working towards and achieving a goal.