Ping Pong King


by Brendan Skinner and Steven Jones

Creating Champions by Brendan Skinner and Steven Jones

Steven Jones, Reporter

I wish I was as passionate about anything as David Brown is about table tennis. Having coached for 47 years, David has lived an inspirational life, travelling the world playing and coaching the sport he loves. Now, in the twilight years of his life, David has settled down in Western Australia, where he runs a Table Tennis club out of Kingsway Indoor Stadium.

He also plays a pivotal role in coaching young players and he works with disabled players for the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF).

David grew up in Nottingham, England. He was an exceptional table tennis player from a young age. A bit of a menace, David used his IQ and technical ability rather than pure power to win games. With a game style sculptured around spin and deception, David would play defensively, wearing out his opponent, making him a very unpopular competitor among his peers.

The first major adversity of David’s table tennis life came at age 12 when he slipped a disc in his back. He later then fractured that same disc in his early 20s while in the Air Force.

In Forrest Gump like style, David travelled with the Air Force playing table tennis all around the world, including; Canada, South Yemen and Hong Kong. It was during this time when he broke his back. This left David with two choices; have multiple discs in his back fused together, leaving him rigid for the rest of his life, or having his back in a cast. David chose the latter, which resulted in a lengthy recovery process. In a plaster cast from the neck down for 18 months and in a brace for a further 18 months, David knew the injury would end his professional playing career so he looked to coaching to keep his passion alive.

Coincidentally, David’s travel landed him an assistant coaching job in Hong Kong and that’s where the coaching journey really began.

David has since gone on to have a storied coaching career, winning WA table tennis coach of the year multiple times and taking away the national honours in 1997. Since moving to Australia in the ’90s David has worked hard with disabled athletes, both coaching them and working as a disabled classifier for events such as the recent national championships in Adelaide.

Basically, that means David sorts out the para-athletes based on their abilities. Disabilities come in different levels of severity. For example people can have different levels of blindness. It’s David’s job to work with athletes to work out what restrictions they have and to sort them into divisions, so athletes compete with peers with similar levels of ability, thus having a more fair and entertaining competition.

While it’s David’s job to classify para-athletes, he said he would never train them based on their disabilities. He even goes so far as to integrate them into all his regular training sessions in a competitive but fun environment.

“The best thing to do is not train them as disabled athletes. Obviously because of the disability they do have weaknesses in places where able bodied athletes can take advantage of, but generally because of the ethics I insist on during the sessions they are not to do that. The idea is to play as hard as they can but not to take advantage of the disabilities.”

It’s this mentality of firm but fair play that makes David believe table tennis is the perfect social sport for everyone. David is so focused on having a positive community that he has set up his club up with no lock-in contracts, encouraging those who share his passion to come back every week.

“This is a social club. We don’t evoke couple of hundred [dollars] for the year because that means people are forced to come and they may not want to come so I just charge $10 and if they like it they come back”

That leaves David with a group of people all keen to enjoy and compete in table tennis and thus has a super supportive and tight-knit community.

As well as the severe back injury, David has had to overcome plenty of adversity to get where he is today. This includes undergoing open heart surgery in 2011, but David has never let it hold him back. He has devoted everything he has to table tennis. All the equipment at his community club is owned by him. He pays rent to use the Kingsway facilities and only just earns enough each week to pay that off but he couldn’t care less.

“I do what I do for the love of the sport, not necessarily for a financial reward because that’s the last thing I want. The idea is to have as many people playing table tennis as possible and bugger the cost.”

So where to next for David? He believes he still has plenty left in the tank and I can promise you he schooled me when I challenged him to a game.

“I still play a mean game of table tennis; don’t let the grey hairs fool you. A lot of the youngsters see the grey hair and think ‘you’re like my granddad,’ but I don’t play table tennis like their granddad,” David told me in jest.

David has kept himself busy in retirement. He has cruised around the world twice on a boat and plays in a band ‘Cover for Cover’ with his friends, all while coaching most days of the week.

David also has plenty to look forward to with his role within the ITTF, he had already been invited to the Oceania championships in Darwin with other competitions on the horizon.

David has had such an incredible life and has been such a successful coach, yet he is still relatively unknown. One reason for that is because he refuses to toot his own horn. As Illy said in the new Hilltop Hoods album; “Ain’t it funny how the ones who can flex just don’t”. I feel this very much applies to David Brown.