Small game to ranked fame
â€śTable tennis isnâ€™t a real sport. Itâ€™s just a game.â€ť
These are words that sophomore Amy Wu has heard far too often throughout her six years of playing table tennis.
At age 9, Wu was introduced to the sport by her father, who gave her the choice to either play table tennis or follow her older brotherâ€™s footsteps of pursuing Taekwondo. Since Wu was unable to choose between the two, her father ultimately chose table tennis because he believed it was a less dangerous sport to play.
â€śI used to absolutely hate table tennis when I first started playing because I wasnâ€™t good at it, and I always said that my leg or arm was hurting so that I wouldnâ€™t have to play. Eventually, as I started to improve, I stopped doing that and just changed my mindset toward the situation. After that, everything changed. I realized that I didnâ€™t have to make up any excuses, so I just played to the best of my ability,â€ť Wu said.
Within her first two years of playing, Wu found that she was making little to no progress with table tennis. However, after her coach recommended her to use a special type of rubber pad for her paddle, her playing got significantly better.
â€śI did not have a lot of motivation [playing table tennis], but ever since [my coach gave me that rubber], my rankings went up, and I gained a lot of experience. During that time, I also learned how to stay focused, and I developed a much better mentality toward table tennis,â€ť Wu said.
For the past three years, Wu has participated in U.S. Nationals four times and ranked in the top 32 in the country for girls under 18 years of age. Wu also competed in the San Diego Open in 2015, where she placed first for both genders under 13 years of age. She has attended a number of smaller competitions as well, including the Dr. Yungtai Hsu Open in April 2016 and the Second Adult Ranking Competition in September 2018. She is currently ranked 21st in the USA for girls under 15 years of age.
â€śDuring competitions, I try to stay focused, and I donâ€™t let the people surrounding me distract me so that I can focus entirely on the game. Itâ€™s really nice to have friends be there to cheer me on and support me,â€ť Wu said.
Wu currently has two coaches, Thilina Piyadasa, a Sri Lankan national champion, and Jeff Lin Huang, a U.S. National Champion and two-time menâ€™s double national champion. She attends lessons twice a week at Grace Lin Table Tennis Club in El Monte. During practice, she first warms up for 15 minutes by hitting forehand and backhand shots with her coach. Then, she practices serves and attacks and ends the lesson with a match. During the summer, she practices for competitions at least three hours every day, and during the school year, she practices twice a week for about two hours per day.
â€śI really admire my coaches because theyâ€™ve been through so much throughout their careers. [They are] always giving me such great advice for ways to improve my playing, and they always have a strong determination and mindset to coach me,â€ť Wu said.
Wu has overcome difficulties, including low motivation and the questioned validity of table tennis being a real sport. Time and extensive practice were required in order to conquer these obstacles.
â€śA couple of people at school that Iâ€™ve talked to have questioned table tennis. Itâ€™s happened quite a few times, and it used to make me feel really threatened. But after that, I mostly learned to ignore it. Thankfully, outside of school, my relatives and a lot of family friends are all Chinese, and since table tennis is a very competitive sport in China, they do perceive it as a real sport,â€ť Wu said.
Wu does not plan on attending competitions as often as she used to, due to issues with balancing table tennis with her social life and schoolwork. However, she still practices and attends lessons regularly at Grace Lin Table Tennis Club. Wu also intends to compete in the U.S. Nationals in July 2019.
â€ś[Table tennis] requires a lot of mind power, and you have to really have the right mindset going into a game. People donâ€™t see it as a real sport, but they donâ€™t see that people who pursue it professionally put in a lot of time and effort towards practicing,â€ť Wu said. â€śSo yes, [table tennis] is a most definitely real sport, and a great one too.â€ť
ByÂ Angela Naseri, Staff writer
Photo byÂ Jessie Dixon