Rotorua's Anthony Leonard says playing table tennis competitively has helped him in more ways than one.

The Rotorua Lakes High School 14-year-old first tried table tennis when he was about five but it wasn't until about four years ago that he started playing competitively. Since then he has gained experience in the sport and improved his skills.

"I started training with one of the Bay of Plenty coaches," he says.

Now, Anthony is one of 56 Bay of Plenty athletes competing in the Table Tennis New Zealand Open Championships at the Queen Elizabeth Youth Centre this week. He has competed in the Bay of Plenty A Under-15 Boys team with Max Henderson and Charlie Paterson, which finished in sixth place after four days of junior competitions.

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"I have been enjoying the competition, it's been a good experience for me," he says.

From today however, Anthony moves into the senior competition, where he will play for singles and doubles titles in D Grade, spending yesterday getting "ready to play some more".

Anthony says he enjoys playing table tennis and since taking up the sport he has not only become a better player, he has also broken out of his shell and has made friends all around New Zealand. The best part of the sport however, is simply playing, he says.

Rotorua's Anthony Leonard, 14, during the national table tennis champs in Tauranga. Photo / George Novak
Rotorua's Anthony Leonard, 14, during the national table tennis champs in Tauranga. Photo / George Novak

Bay junior coach Jessica Macaskill says the juniors are encouraged to enter the senior division to gain experience playing against adult athletes.

"For them it's about building experiences and learning," Macaskill says.

Anthony is one of 335 people from New Zealand, New Caledonia, Australia, Sri Lanka and Germany who are competing in the national champs.

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Table Tennis Tauranga president Paul Henderson says Table Tennis New Zealand executive director John Lea, who is also the treasurer of the Bay of Plenty Table Tennis Association, "was instrumental" in securing the event.

"On the back of the success of this I think we'll have a good chance to hold this again," Henderson says.

"It's wonderful and we are hoping to bring other events to Tauranga, national and international."

He says having the national champs in Tauranga is great news for the community and hopes it will be the beginning of more major competitions for the city.

Next year, the Bay association has already secured hosting rights for the Secondary Schools Nationals.

Henderson says the popularity of table tennis is growing in the Bay, something he attributes to the sport being all-inclusive and appealing to diverse groups of people from all ages, sporting abilities, backgrounds and ethnicities.

"It's growing very quickly. It's a resurgence really, and that's right across New Zealand.

"It's a great way to meet people."

During the competition games are played from 8.30am to 8.30pm each day, with mens and womens semifinals on Saturday starting from 3pm, followed by finals from 5.30pm.