Since the establishment of table tennis as an Olympic sport in 1988, 28 out of 32 gold medals have been won by the Chinese team. It is no coincidence that the sport has been dominated by players from Asia for many years.
The entrance to the national team takes place through a series of qualification tournaments. This is the system that most of the world’s top countries use. It is no different in the case of China. A few promising players are selected from the tournaments and introduced into the training system. Training programs for young players are funded by the state, so their resources and capabilities are the greatest in the world.
What sets this nation apart, however, is building a broad base of players. The Chinese national team currently has 96 players: 24 men, 24 women, 24 boys and 24 girls. The rest interested in playing at the professional level train in special training centers and wait for the opportunity to enter the national team. Competition is high, so no player can be sure of a permanent place in the national team. Training plans in the centers are extremely demanding and intensive, so each of the hard-working players has a chance to enter the national team, and then fight for the most important titles in the world.
A series of classes for the youngest players is conducted for children as young as 5 years old. This means that China trains the player from an early age, which allows to build a broad base of the national team. According to table tennis players in China, a training day lasts about 7 hours and includes comprehensive exercises. Classes are usually held 6 days a week, and attendance is mandatory. It is estimated that professional Chinese players have only about a dozen days off per year. In addition to playing ping pong, the training includes strength training, cardio, mental training and technical workshops. An important aspect is also the study of tactics.
According to Chinese experts, the key to victory, in addition to technical skills and physical fitness, is a combination of psychology and tactics, hence such a strong emphasis on the help of a psychologist who deals not only with the mentality of the player, but also practice the implementation of game strategies under pressure. Players start regular training at a fairly young age and don’t slow down until the end of their career, which sometimes doesn’t end until they are in their 40s. Throughout this time, a developed training system allows players to maintain the highest level and win major championship titles, even at such an advanced age for a professional athlete.
Extensive human resources allow the Chinese to train with the best athletes in the world. Young athletes have the opportunity to play with the most outstanding table tennis players in the world. As a result, it is common for Chinese players to play against a much tougher opponent while training at home than at major international tournaments. Most countries have a system where national team members train with each other and have to swap lines at specific drills or class elements. In the case of China, there is no need for this, as the backline of very good players is large enough to focus on each player individually.
Another interesting aspect is that the women often train with sparring partners. This gives the players the opportunity to play against stronger and much more demanding players, who represent a higher level than their potential opponents in tournaments. The sparring partners who take part in the national team’s training master the game of the best international opponents and allow their players to play against a copy of the real player. Such a system makes preparation for a match against world-class opponents much easier.
Featured photo: Pierre-Yves Beaudouin / Wikimedia Commons