By Michael Reff
Matt Hetherington has been a table tennis mainstay in the United States for several years in the coaching and media fields. Originally hailing from New Zealand, Hetherington started playing when he was 8 years old, and reached a pinnacle of achievement by representing his country in the World Champs on three occasions. For quite some time Hetherington was USATT's Media and Communications director, but he recently moved on from the position on March 1st of this year. He says he was "supposed to be moving on to another opportunity in table tennis," but the pandemic unfortunately put a damper on that prospect.
Still, Hetherington has been keeping himself very productive while in quarantine and in almost complete isolation for close to 3 months. "The first couple of weeks all I could really do was work out every day and I did my best to start going nuts on my social media," he noted. This included bringing up old blog posts on his website and creating new coaching videoss by successfully challenging himself to produce 30 tutorials in 30 days.
All in all he created 44 coaching tutorial videos ranging many topics from serve and receive to short pimple play and chopping.
The pandemic isolation period has left him feeling nostalgic about many areas of table tennis, his NCTTA experiences being among them.
Before becoming involved with NCTTA as a commentator, Hetherington was already briefly a student-athlete in 2017 for Pillar College alongside the likes of Olympians Tim Wang and Lily Yip. He reached the Nationals that school year and placed 5th in the team event, reaching the quarterfinals in the doubles with Wang and the last 32 in the singles. His lasting memories with the experience fueled his ambition to commit to helping the national event each year. Although Hetherington discontinued his studies, he longed to return. "I feel like college table tennis is quite a significant part of the culture of the sport in this country," he stated, "having experienced it first hand, it was something I really wanted to continue to be a part of."
He commentated in the 2018 and 2019 Nationals and was committed to return in 2020 before the eventual cancellation.
Hetherington plans to reprise his role as commentator for NCTTA during the 2021 Champs held in Round Rock, Texas. He says that a positive aspect of commentating with the volunteer organization is that you get to work with many diverse people. Also, he observes that many of the NCTTA commentators have volunteered with NCTTA for a long time. "In the beginning I felt like it was a really good opportunity to try and improve the relationship between USATT and NCTTA," Hetherington said. "I felt that there was a lot of value in building the partnership there and I genuinely see that College Table Tennis has all the elements that this sport needs to grow in the USA - the team atmosphere, the promotion of table tennis in schools and the continuation of table tennis competition during college study."
Yes, being in the thick of things while observing and participating in the ubiquitous #loudnproud cheering by schools is quite the invigorating experience for volunteers and players alike.
Hetherington holds NCTTA in high esteem, considering it to possess an excellent "blueprint structure to look at when thinking about regionalization or a professional league" for table tennis in the USA. He says NCTTA's qualification system and geographical progression from divisionals to regionals and then nationals along with the team aspect of college table tennis is what make it a worthy ponging paradigm to emulate in the long run.
And regarding other NCTTA volunteers who work tirelessly to promote college table tennis, Hetherington said, "At the end of the day you need people who are passionate enough who will put in that amount of work and are satisfied purely with having pulled off the end result, as a volunteer organization I can see that the NCTTA has the right people involved."
As coaching for Hetherington soon returns to the Lily Yip TTC with pandemic restrictions being lifted, we wish him the safest and most productive return to the sport we all love. Tune in April 2021 at Round Rock, Texas to hear and watch Matt Hetherington commentate along with the rest of our stellar volunteer staff!