For the hundreds of Houston-area residents who play at the Texas Table Tennis Training Center in the Southwest Management District, the 6,000-square-foot site represents more than a venue: It’s a community.
Players can get exercise and share their passion for table tennis while maintaining friendships and making new friends in the sport played by as many as 330 million people worldwide.
“It’s a great place to exercise and an even better method for stress reduction,” said Enrique Quezada, a 28-year-old Rice University doctoral student finishing up a political science dissertation before taking a teaching job in Georgia. “I am so glad I found this place. I really enjoy it.”
Table tennis – ping pong for short – is a game that can be played 365-days a year with no worries about the weather.
The center, with its dozen tables, 13-foot-high ceilings and state-of-the-art lighting, continues to grow in stature as one of the nation’s best facilities of its kind. The center at 5902 Sovereign Drive hosts leagues and competitions, and a retinue of coaches offers private instruction.
The reputation includes international attention. Japan’s national team took over the facility for three days during the team’s visit to the U.S. to take part in the 2021 International Table Tennis Federation World Championships.
The sport is especially popular in Asia, where top professional players who compete in the Olympics are admired on the same level as baseball or football greats in the U.S. Many Asian immigrants to the U.S. continue to play and follow the sport passionately.
The center’s owner and manager, Dylan Nguyen, eats and breathes the game and seemingly never tires of chatting about its many benefits.
“It’s a game for everyone,” he said. “We’ve got people playing here ranging from young children to folks in their late 80s.”
A biomedical engineering director at a local hospital by day, he opens the center at 4 p.m. weekdays for open play and leagues that stretch to as late as 9 p.m. The club is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays.
Nguyen, 54, cites research on the brain waves of chess and table tennis players that show the same parts of the brain are stimulated in players of each sport. The belief is that table tennis requires the same strategic thinking as chess.
Player Anthony Chukwurah, 40, agreed.
“There’s no doubt about it,” the tall and lanky Nigerian immigrant said. “When you play, you stay physically fit, and you definitely benefit cognitively.”
Chukwurah plays regularly after work and on weekends. A practicing surgeon in Nigeria, he recently passed required exams to begin a residency in family medicine here.
“I loved (table tennis) as a kid, so I found it again as an adult,” he said during a break from a vigorous match. “I definitely plan to keep playing during my residency.”
Comments from people like Chukwurah who are hooked on table tennis is music to the ears of Nguyen and a dedicated team of like-minded volunteers at the center.
“We work together to ensure the best facilities are available for anyone who wants to come and play at a club we all feel passionate about,” Nguyen said.
This summer, Nguyen has organized youth and adult training sessions with a renowned coach, Riki Watanabe.
The coach – who led a number of Japan’s national medal-winning teams – will be in Houston in late May and June to teach three sessions.
“He’s a world-class coach,” Nguyen said. “I believe every player who takes part will learn and come away from the experience enriched.”
Texas Table Tennis Club
5902 Sovereign Drive, Houston 77036
Fees range from $10 for single day play up to 2.5 hours to $120 a month for a family of three.