Ben Nisbet Interview

By Rahul Acharya | March 29, 2015, 12 a.m. (ET)

I know Ben Nisbet as a mentor, a friend, and a person to go to for equipment. I met him for the first time in late 2012 when I joined Westchester TTC, where Ben also plays. In fact, I bought my first "training" paddle, a Friendship 729, from him. I remember Ben was always willing to hit with me back then even though I was just a beginner. He also introduced me to Brian Pace videos and Pingskills's videos so I could learn and improve my stroke technique. In 2013, when I was looking to start a table tennis club at my high school, Ben gave me great advice and discounted equipment to help the club get off the ground. Ben is a left-handed, two-winged player and I continue to enjoy playing him.

Ben is well known in the USATT community, but for those of you who don't know him, I hope you enjoy reading about him!

Quick facts about Ben Nisbet:
Highest rating 2265
Chairman - USATT Juniors Advisory Committee (2015 - 2016)
Co-Founder and Director - American Youth Table Tennis Organization (AYTTO)
Past Executive Director - USA Table Tennis
Owner - www.tabletennisstore.us

Ben Nisbet, Chairman - USATT Juniors Advisory Committee (2015 - 2016)
Photo: Glen Randmer
With Ben Nisbet at Westchester TTC

1. Tell us about how you got started with table tennis? 
I was in sixth grade, middle school. A math teacher, named David Clevinson, ran a table tennis elective. He was a member of USATT. We played once a week. It wasn’t long before Mr. Clevinson, introduced us to the Waltham Table Tennis Club, which was conveniently located near the commuter train station two towns away. We lived walking distance from the train tracks and in a neighborhood with a lot of kids my age. Every Friday, ten to fifteen of us took the train to the Waltham Table Tennis Club to play the handicapped tournament. No parents! Just a bunch of kids riding the train by ourselves to play table tennis. I remember often taking the last train home, 12:30 a.m. or so.  It was cool! By the way, some of you may know Ralph Bockoven and Kurt Douty. They are active members today. We came out of the same program. Ralph’s kids, Connor and Chase, are now top youth players.   

2. What equipment do you currently use?
Blade: Donic Waldner Dicon (but it could be any five ply offensive minus racquet without carbon) 
Forehand rubber: Omega V Euro - Max
Backhand rubber: Donic 52

3. How often do you play and train?
Right now I play at the Westchester Table Tennis Center, 5 days a week. But I never train, and when I play, it is often only one or two matches. Even though I play more often, I play fewer hours than I did five years ago, and my skill level has gone down. 

4. What are your personal goals with regards to table tennis?
I would like to get my rating over 2300. This is an arbitrary personal milestone. When I was in college, I briefly reached 2300 and it would be cool to reach that level again. What is interesting is that I think that if I could play against myself, present versus past, I would win today. That is because the equipment is so much better. 

5. What has been your best win and worst loss so far?
My best win, or the one I am most proud of was when I was a junior and a heavy underdog, against Lim Ming Chui, who at the time was a top and highly regarded player. It was the finals of the Massachusetts State Championship, so the win resulted in a title. I think it was 1979 or 1980. Probably not my “best win,” but certainly my most memorable. Living on the east coast, it is not often that I have played in the finals of a tournament. So this one was special.

My worst loss? Aren’t we supposed to forget our worst losses? My results have been pretty consistent over the past 20 years or so. Never any big wins, but never a bad loss. At least if I had a super bad loss, I don’t remember it. As a junior, I remember having some losses, where I my stomach was so tight and knotted, that I wanted to vomit. Were they bad losses? Not sure.   
   
While I have a moment here, I think we in the USA, get too hung up on whom we beat or lose to.   When you win or lose, you shake your opponents hand and acknowledge the sportsmanship.  However, after the match is over you move on. Results should be dealt the same way you would deal with a wrapper of a good candy bar. You look at it, savor what was inside, and then toss it. In other words, it is the new skills and tactics that you gain from your wins and losses that are more valuable.

6. This year you are chairing the USATT Juniors Advisory Committee. What are the committee's objectives and what steps are you taking to making them a reality?
We are a committee, without any budget, so our goals have to be limited. Right now, we are attempting to build an information and resource portal for the USA Table Tennis website so that anyone interested in starting an organized youth program would have valuable information at their fingertips. USA Fencing, USA Tennis, and other national governing bodies have such portals.

Not glamorous, but a start, and one that we can accomplish. Once we get that up, the committee has other plans, but we will keep that confidential for now.

7. I know your organization, AYTTO, has played an important role in helping table tennis become a varsity sport in New York City. Do you ever see that happening elsewhere in the USA? If so, what needs to be done to get there?
Very good question! First, we are American Youth Table Tennis, www.aytto.org. We are a 501c3 not-for-profit and have an outstanding board and group of donors, supporters, coaches and volunteers. It is not my organization, but I did co-found it, and care for it passionately. 

Second, we are not the only ones to organize high school sports. Mitch Seidenfeld in Minnesota runs a much larger organized high school league and there is also one in Portland Oregon, I believe. While these programs fall under high school "club" sports, they are still very effective and should not be minimalized. 

Third, I do believe that other school districts will take note of what is happening in New York City and add table tennis to their roster of varsity sports.

It will happen. There are many pathways. But, let me spin it from our perspective.

AYTTO has over the past 10 years, put over $1 million dollars back into after school table tennis programs in New York City. Our organizational goals now are to expand the number of high schools playing competitive table tennis to 75. If this happens, we will have over five thousand high school students representing their school in organized competitions. When that happens, I think other public educational systems will notice and consider replicating.

In order to get there, we, AYTTO, need interested stakeholders to grab onto this initiative. If you are reading this and are interested in providing input, support, and/or guidance, please contact us. 

8. When and how did you get involved in the equipment business? 
Three years ago, I was working as a Program Director for an outstanding and highly regarded, New York based not-for-profit called Sports & Arts In Schools Foundation. My program budget was being cut in half and I sensed my job was in jeopardy.

At the same time, Mr. Varghese Pallathu who had vested thousands of hours to build an online table tennis website was now putting it up for sale. He and I met one weekend and I was impressed. I bought the business and a few weeks later I lost my job at Sports & Arts. So I ran into the opportunity and took it. It is a lot of fun, but hard work.

The business website is called www.tabletennisstore.us. My wife, Remy, is an ecommerce consultant, and we have plans for growth, within and possibly outside the sport.

9. You are connected to the sport both professionally and recreationally. Do you ever get bored of it?
Yes! In fact, I currently enjoy sailboarding, downhill and cross-country skiing. There is nothing better than being in an open field of snow on a cold morning and working up a sweat as you float though the snow, or shredding down a double black diamond trail on downhill skis, or finally, harnessing up on your sailboard and skipping over the water like a rocket-ship. There is so much to learn in every sport and my only regret is that I have not vested enough time in these three. Table tennis is still terrific, though. Not sure anything beats, hooking a loop cross-court for a winner. 

10. Who is your favorite international table tennis player? Why?
I am left handed, and have a bias towards left-handers. Marcos Freitas and Koki Niwa on the current ITTF ranking roster and Christophe Legout and Stellan Bengtsson from prior years. I also very much admire and like Eugene Wang.

11. If you could challenge any table tennis player, national or international, to a challenge match, who would it be and why?
I think I would go back in time for this one. It would have to be Richard Bergmann, Dick Miles, Marty Reisman, or Sol Schiff. I would also like to bring a few hundred dollars back in time and play a money match, in a smoke filled room. Hard bat to hard bat. Obviously I would need a handicap, but that would be part of the sport fantasy, negotiating your own handicap with these masters. I would have to be very careful, though, to make sure I am left with enough return money for my trip back to the future.

12. Tell us something surprising that most people who know you don't know about you?
My parents are English. I was born in England and lived the first six years of my life in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. And, one day, I would like to move back to London, for a year or two, to recapture that clean British accent my mother said I had before I entered the U.S. school system in suburban Massachusetts. 

13. Anything else that you would like to add?
Table tennis is a terrific sport, fun to play, and multi-dimensional with many layers of tactics. If chess were a physical sport, it would be table tennis. Wonderful people too!

Thanks for the opportunity to interview. 

And for the reader, who got this far in reading this, if you are ever in the New York area, come visit us at the Westchester Table Tennis Center. I have some equipment to sell you... and we can certainly play a match.

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Thanks for your time, Ben!