Thomas Mann practices stacking upside down plastic cups upward in a pyramid shape. Then he unstacks them. Quickness in each direction and improving his times are the goals. The 11-year-old has only been cup stacking since early 2017, learning most of his technique from watching on YouTube. At the Mann home in south Lubbock, the hollow, rapid kerplunking sound coming from Thomas’ bedroom is a regular happening.
“I just kept doing it and then my brother was gong to tennis tournaments, because we do tennis,” Thomas says. “And I wasn’t able to go to them. So I was like, ‘eh I want to go to a cup stacking tournament.’ So my dad was like, why not? So, he took me to one and then they were so like nice, then I actually qualify for the J.O. there…Junior Olympics.”
Thomas has gotten really good at competitive speed stacking, which is sometimes called sport stacking. He’s traveled to seven competitions, including a recent trip to Orlando, Florida, for the World Sports Stacking Competition where he finished 17th in his age division.
At the Junior Olympics last year in Detroit, Thomas was the fastest US participant in the longest race. He finished in fourth place, having been bested only by three kids from Team Canada.
Thomas says he likes the sport’s competitiveness and is always trying to best his fastest times. But it’s his interactions with other competitors that linger longest.
“I like it because it’s fun to try to beat your times and everyone is like so nice. It’s just fun to hang around everyone. If you want to do doubles with a really famous speed stacker, they’ll be like, sure why not?,” he says
When Thomas started speed stacking, he had to let go of one of his other sports activities. Basketball fell by the wayside, but he continues to hone his tennis skills. Does he have a favorite?
“I go back and forth. Somedays, I’ll be like tennis is way better, some days I’ll be like cup stacking. But usually after cup stacking tournaments, I’ll be like cup stacking is better and after tennis tournaments, I’ll be like tennis is better.”
He still loves tennis and finds speed stacking helpful.
“I’ve been going to some tennis tournaments and I’ve been speed stacking before them and it kind of relaxes me and it’s really good hand-eye coordination,” he says.
Sport stackingoriginated in the early 1980s in southern California and got national exposure during a segment of “Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson in 1990. Versions of speed stacking have become part of PE classes in some states’ elementary schools. And there are competitions all around the US and the world.
Thomas taught himself by watching YouTube videos of some of the world’s fastest speed stackers. He practices as long as 2 hours a day. At times Keith Mann, his dad, needs to curb his enthusiasm for practice.
“I have to generally ask him to stop so that we can go to bed, or eat dinner or go to tennis,” Keith says.
Youth competitions are divided by age, ranging from under 6 to 18 year olds. Thomas competes with 11 and/or 12 year olds, depending on the size of the tournament. There are also adult competitions. Events have singles, doubles and relays. Judges at tournaments watch each speed stacker carefully as a digital clock tracks times.
There are different categories within each event – most all involving stacking up cups into pyramids and then down stacking them.
The 3-3-3 category uses nine cups. The 3-6-3 category uses 12 cups. The cycle – the longest race -- uses 12 cups. It’s a sequence of stacks in the following order: a 3-6-3 stack, a 6-6 stack, and a 1-10-1 stack.
Keith Mann says he’s impressed with son’s focus and discipline.
“I see the determination when he’s practicing,” he says. “What’s really interesting is I see a really calm demeanor when he goes to tournaments. He’s not real anxious, you know he’s nervous because I’ve done it and I get super nervous.”