Delaney Wells, Briana Heaney Published

Young Table Tennis Players Learn To Focus Amidst The Racquet 

four young table tennis players face off in table tennis individual's world championship. They are all four in blue and black uniforms, playing mixed doubles. One boy and girl on each side of the table. On the far end of the table the girl is about to serve the ball. Other players are in wide stance ready to start play.
Brazil and American mix teams face off at Individual Qualifier Championship on Aug. 2, 2023.
Emily Rice/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Through Saturday the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center is hosting young athletes competing in the World Table Tennis Youth Championship.

Table tennis consists of a two-person-team, much like doubles in tennis. Each team stands on opposite sides of the net to score. Scoring in table tennis is the same as tennis as well, each team receives a point when they serve the ball across the net and their opponents fail to return the serve.

What makes table tennis strikingly different from tennis is that the game is played over a 9-foot-table with small paddles covered in sponge or rubber instead of a wire strung tennis racket. These changes speed up the game substantially.

Marc Hazinski is a former table tennis Olympian who now coaches the USA under 19 boys team. He says that playing table tennis helps kids with other things in life that require quick decision making, patience, or performing well under pressure.

Nice tables sit in the middle of the convention center. There are six active matches taking place with players representing different countries.
Table Tennis Youth Individual Championships at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center. Credit: Emily Rice/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

“It’s really like high-speed chess — athletic chess. Because it really requires so much focus,” Hazinski said. “So, for the mental side, I think it’s good for anything you do in life because you have to make very quick decisions. You have to read your opponent, the spin, all that. So, I think it really benefits them overall in school, and just in life in general.”

Part of Hazinski’s love of this sport is due to its revolving challenges.

“The better you get, it just becomes more and more mental,” Hazinski said.

Hazinski said that he still learns new strategies and tactics from watching other players.

“There’s always things to learn. You know, I’ve been playing for 30 years, and I feel like there’s so much for me to learn,” Hazinski said.

Some doctors are recommending that aging communities pick up table tennis. A Japanese clinical study showed that table tennis activates at least five separate portions of the brain and is among top ranking brain games that individuals can play to slow cognitive decline.

For younger players, like the ones competing in this week’s individual competition, table tennis helps them learn to focus and manage their emotions.

Like for 16-year-old Rachel Wang who is competing in the Under19 mixed doubles competition. She said table tennis helps her in everyday situations.

“If you’re frustrated after one match, then it’s better to think about the next match instead of dwelling on your emotions are like the past match,” Wang said. “That’s helpful. And I guess, in everyday life, you kind of just have to learn to move on from the past.” 

Four players face in mixed doubles Table tennis mathc. The first doubles team is in red and is about to recieve the ball that the other team in blue just served over to them. The boy on the red doubles team has his paddle flexed to hit the ball that is up in the air.
Rachel Wang (left, back to camera) faces off against Puerto Rico in the Individual Championship final round. Credit: Emily Rice/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Staying present, and not ruminating on what you can’t change is an important mental aspect of the sport, said Wang.

“When your opponent is winning, and you’re down a couple of points, then like you can never give up,” Wang said. “Always try your best and keep fighting every point, you know.”

The event features players competing in the 15 and under league, and the 19 and under league.

The players will be competing for their own titles and points to qualify for other competitions — like world championships or the Olympics.