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Serving Up the Conversation: Unexpected Benefits of Ping Pong

“Something for the family,” was how this gift was pitched. My mind started racing—a night in a hotel room by myself so I could come back calm, cool, and collected? Apparently, that wasn’t quite what they had in mind.

The ping pong table was a gift from my in-laws about five years ago. We had said no to a game system. At the time, the thought of having to “monitor” one more thing in my household was going to push me right over. I was already monitoring computer time, TV time, practice time for instruments. So we explored some other options for the sake of my sanity.

The Perfect Gift for Our Family

“How about a foosball table?” my mother-in-law offered.

“I don’t think they’d use it.”

“A pool table?” I could picture them jabbing each other with the cue sticks.

“Nah.”

“What about a large screen TV for the basement?”

Clearly she doesn’t have the dreams I have of all of us sitting in front of a roaring fire, nose in our books. (I have visions of Todd’s next wife—she likes electronics and can handle the screen time issue. Clearly a better woman than me. Whatever.)

“How about a ping pong table?”

Hmmm. That got my attention. Though I didn’t have one as a kid, I love the game, and actually dream of having one in my office. I agreed. They are going to love it. It’s not a roaring fire, but it will suffice.

And so a ping pong table arrived for the holidays, and with it came several other problems, but life lessons too.

The Lessons Learned Playing Ping Pong:

1. Sportsmanship

You don’t start off as a great ping pong player. You start as a lousy player who slams your racket down, pronounces the game is “stupid,” and whips the ball at your mother, who sends you to your room. Three for three—all of my kids showed their lack of sportsmanship as they learned to master the game around the age of 11. Ping pong requires practice and patience.

2. Hard work

I can’t let my kids beat me. I disguise this as I-just-want-them-to-learn-how-to-lose, but I really do like to win. And, I want to see the look on their faces when they beat me fair and square. Ping pong shows you that no one hands you anything—you need to work for it.

3. The importance of a safe space

Some of the best conversations in our house have occurred to the sound of the ball being rallied back and forth. Conversations that start with, “I know you won’t say anything to anyone.” He was right—I didn’t and never will. Ping pong removes direct eye contact, so everyone feels more comfortable sharing.

During a high stress time a few years ago, Todd and I found ourselves in the basement. The back and forth, back and forth provided some nice background noise as we talked and processed. Even grownups need some background noise.

I guess I just love what it represents—years of time well spent, many conversations, and good, clean family fun. In a weird way, I’m sad that I don’t have another kid that will whip a ping pong ball at my head. But there are always the grandkids.

Stephanie Silverman

Stephanie Schaeffer Silverman is publisher of Your Teen Magazine.

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