I believe very few of you would have never heard of the sport of table tennis or ping pong, in which two or four players hit a lightweight ball back and forth across a table using small rackets. Originating as an English parlour game and invented in Britain in the early days of the 20th century, as well as widely acclaimed as the national sport in China, table tennis has become one of the most popular sports all around the world. There are a number of reasons contributing to its prevalence, one of which being that table tennis can be played by anyone across all ages, and requires very limited space and minimum equipment, namely two rackets, a ball, a table and a net that can easily be improvised. It can be easily played and adapted to any setting such as at school or a park, or even in an office or at home.
From my perspective, why table tennis appeals to me the most is its high demand for quick reactions, strategic thinking and attention to detail. You can hardly adopt a “one-size-fits-all” strategy to play against your opponents who usually have different playing styles (e.g. pen-hold grip, shakehand grip, topspin attacker, defensive chopper, etc) and equipment (e.g. different kinds of rackets and rubbers). The sport’s challenging nature has attracted me to continue playing for more than 22 years, from a beginner to a full-time professional athlete in the Hong Kong Table Tennis Team, and now a table tennis amateur who is keen on promoting table tennis in Hong Kong.
First Competition of My Life
I started playing table tennis when I was four years old. At that time, table tennis was merely an after-school leisure activity for me. To my surprise, after practising for about three months, I was persuaded by my coach to participate in my first-ever competition – the Hang Seng New Generation Table Tennis Competition for the under-7 age group. I will never forget how nervous I was at that time when I played against a much taller player (who was then seven years old - three years older than me!) in the semi-final, nor will I forget how hilarious it was that I complained to the referee that it was unfair to me to play against such a mature and strong player. What made the competition so unique to me is that I was very fortunate to have clinched my first ever bronze medal - which was completely beyond everyone’s (including myself) expectation. Since then, I became more obsessed with table tennis, and decided to devote more time and effort to practices.
Since then, I have committed at least four hours per day on average to perfect my skills. After becoming the champion in the 2005 National Youth Table Tennis Championships and the youngest Hong Kong champion in men’s singles at the age of 12, I was honoured to be selected as the youngest torchbearer in Hong Kong for the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008. I was responsible for the part from the Tsing Ma Bridge up to the Lantau Link Viewing Platform. I can still vividly remember how passionate and thrilled the supporters and spectators from different nations were. Running past them, I truly felt how sports unite people across languages, countries and nationalities. Time has passed since then, and yet the ever-burning Olympic flame is still always crystal clear in my mind.
My first career-defining moment came at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games when I was at 16. As one of the seeded players who was regarded by the media as a favourite to bring home a medal, the pressure on me was tremendous. It was also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me since the Youth Olympic Games, held once every four years, is regarded as the world’s foremost junior sports competition. In order to train myself to my best condition, I took a whole year of leave from my secondary school to fully concentrate on my training. With all the psychological burden on my shoulder, needless to say, I was extremely nervous. On the day of the men’s singles quarter-final, I played against a pen-holder player from Chinese Taipei. With the benefit of a well-prepared strategic analysis against the opponent in advance of the game, I played extremely aggressively at the beginning of the match and consistently attacked the opponent’s weaknesses on his backhand. The strategy did work very well - the opponent was hardly coping with my new style of play, which resulted in a 3-1 lead against my opponent. Just when I thought that victory was around the corner, my opponent suddenly changed his playing style - he used more forehand with stronger topspin and sidespin. On the other hand, as my goal of winning a medal was just one set away from me, my over-eagerness to gain victory led me to play in a relatively passive manner. I found myself gradually losing set by set. In the end, my struggle was unfortunately in vain - I lost three sets in a straight row and lost 3-4 to the opponent in the end.
The defeat devastated me. Having shed blood, sweat and toil for a whole year to prepare for this game, only lose in the end, I could not help but doubt my capability and future in table tennis. However, as the old saying goes - every cloud has a silver lining. The experience matured me. Previously, I used to equate the Olympic ideal of “excellence” with winning medals or attaining highest grades in exams. However, after thorough reflection on the tournament and the experience of engaging in programmes such as chatting with the Olympic ambassadors during my stay at the Olympic Park, I had a new understanding of “excellence.” “Excellence” is manifested by tirelessly advancing towards one’s personal goal. It describes the spirit of not giving up, the long-term commitment to improve oneself and the courage to face obstacles. “Excellence” is personal - it does not entirely lie on the ultimate results achieved. Therefore, failure should never eliminate “excellence”. Although I lost the game, I am still proud to say that I gave it all.
As time went by, with unparalleled support and encouragement from my parents, coaches and friends, I eventually overcame my state of being depressed and resumed my regular practice and competition. With a more positive and relaxed mindset, I was at my optimum state both physically and mentally. To my surprise, I clinched the gold medal and silver medal in the men’s singles in the Asian Schools Table Tennis Championships and the ITTF World Junior Circuit Finals within three months respectively - both would not have been achieved without my lesson learnt from failure.
First Competition Representing the Law Society
Although I eventually decided not to pursue a full-time career as an athlete, and instead read law at HKU and am now working as a trainee solicitor, table tennis is still a constant in my life. In 2020, I was honoured to represent the Law Society of Hong Kong table tennis team to participate in the biennial Sports Meeting in Macau. This was my first-time representing the Law Society in a table tennis competition, and it was a second-to-none experience for me. Apart from the recognition (the Law Society of Hong Kong table tennis team was the overall champion for the first time, while I was the winner of the men’s singles event), I was touched by our team spirit. Witnessing how legal practitioners from different jurisdictions and firms bond and unite through table tennis and sport in general, I am once again awe-struck by the power of sport. I am proud to be part of the Law Society table tennis team, which I now call a family, and am fervently looking forward to more events in the future!
Table Tennis – More Than a Sport
Table tennis is a physical and mental game which is suitable for everyone, regardless of age, gender or physical strength. Though it might seem less physically demanding than other sports such as swimming or running, the fun experienced - the tactics, quick reactions and endless variety of skills – is truly irreplaceable. To me, table tennis has always been my best partner, teacher and friend. Aside from the lessons it has taught me, it is still one of the best ways to recharge, to polish my skills, meet up with friends and simply live for the moment with the sole companion of a racket and a ball after a long day of work at the law firm.
Hence, next time, when you feel the urge to spice up your life, I’d strongly recommend giving table tennis a try. You might also consider joining our Law Society table tennis team - I’ll assure you that this would not be a decision that you’d regret.