Leave it all on the table

One. Two. Three. Three bounces. That’s all it takes for him to regain his composure. With self-assurance and an eerily placid disposition, he steadily bounces his ball on his paddle, an action that immediately releases a wave of calm throughout his body.

“[Dimitri Ovtcharov], the third best ping pong player in the world, once told me, ’Just bounce the ball on the paddle three times, tell yourself you’re gonna win, and you automatically become calm.’ Whenever I have trouble focusing, I just remember these words,” freshman Matthew Chang said.

Originally, sustaining such a carefully put-together temperament during games did not come easily to Chang. When he first started playing table tennis, Chang struggled to keep his composure after losses.

“It’s been a challenge overcoming the obstacle of emotions during matches, because sometimes your desire to win takes control over you and you lose it,” Chang said. “There was this one time, I was leading a lot in a match and I kept my focus, but I started to lose [focus] since I thought I was going to win, but then [my opponent] caught up and won instead.”

Inspired by his dad’s love for the sport, Chang first began playing table tennis around six years ago. However, he never imagined to reach the level of skill that he is at now.

“I never had any intention of becoming really good,” Chang said. “I first started playing recreationally and then I actually got pretty good at it. I didn’t really play any sports before, so I figured might as well play a recreational sport.”

Despite his initial nonchalance toward the sport, table tennis has evolved into a fundamental part of Chang’s life. He was drawn in by the sport’s unorthodox technique and stayed for the friendships he made with competitors.

“Ping pong’s a really unique sport; not a lot of people play it. You have to be really fast and it’s different, because most sports are focused on strength while this is more focused on feeling and how well you can hit to the other side,” Chang said. “You meet a lot of new people from tournaments; we really bond over our mutual love for the game. “

Chang has also found a way to make money playing the sport. Sponsored by Joola, a Germany-based table tennis company, he advertises its gear and competes with its products.

After six years of hard work and dedication, he found himself ranked as the seventh best tennis player in the USA Table Tennis League amongst individuals 14 and under.

“My dad and brother are probably my biggest inspirations. They keep on pushing me to work hard. If it wasn’t for them I probably wouldn’t be half as good as I am today,” Chang said. They keep pushing me to go and to keep driving myself. They taught me that you need more than one to succeed.”

Through hard work and determination, Chang has been able to compete among some of the best players in the nation. When table tennis first came into his life, Chang dismissed the sport for its outward insignificance. However, the experiences of both himself and his teammates have taught Chang to appreciate the blessings of his life, along with embracing its unpredictability.

“[Table tennis] has helped me understand how hard it is to survive in this world,” Chang said. “There are players who give up everything completely to play ping pong, so you have to compete with the best, which is almost impossible. I had to grow up. I had to learn that you can’t win everything; life is a whirlwind and can change at any second.”

By Michelle Feng, Staff writer 

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