Building a Child’s Confidence through Competitive Play

Ping pong with my Dad

My Dad was a gifted athlete who could play any sport well. When I was a teen he noticed that I was having a hard time. Even though I was a cheerful, social child he must have seen that the typical peer, academic and hormonal pressures of adolescence were weighing me down.

One evening after dinner he made a silent authoritative gesture (I never questioned him when he communicated this way) and pointed towards the basement. He was letting me know that it was time to play ping pong on the table he had just bought. He was insistent on his idea for many nights.

When we started I knew little about the game and in typical adolescent fashion thought it was a excruciatingly bad idea. He was a patient teacher and somehow got me to concentrate on what I was doing while paying little attention to our relative skill levels. We always finished at least one complete game typically ending at 21 points.

In our rules a player had to be 2 points ahead of their opponent to win. As I got better we frequently would tie at 20 and end up playing to 30 as he rarely if ever let the competition be easy. We barely talked. Sometimes we grunted from exertion or laughed at odd jumps of the ball or our own careless errors. We often played more than one game.

Evening ping pong with Dad went on for months and in all that time I never ended up loosing a game.

To this day I am an excellent ping pong player but looking back I don’t think that was my father’s goal. I believe that he was letting me know that he was “there for me” when my life needed a boost. He was also teaching me that I could figure out how to succeed no matter how “down” I felt.

I think my father’s relatively simple gesture was one of the ways that I learned to overcome “unbeatable” challenges with grace and confidence, something I have tried to remember to this day.