Our family has dreamed of traveling to China for years but it took ping pong to finally get us there.
My son discovered a love for ping pong or ‘table tennis’ (as its more formally known in sports circles) in middle school thanks to Shorewood Table Tennis Club (STTC), one of the few table tennis training centers in the Midwest and the largest club in Wisconsin. While table tennis is gaining more interest in the United States with clubs starting to sprout up in major cities, the sport has a long history in China, which has won all but two World Championships since 1971.
Recently STTC started a National Youth Table Tennis Association (NYTTA) to educate more Milwaukee youth about the sport of table tennis as well as introducing them to the Chinese Culture. Why is this important? China is one of the world’s oldest and richest cultures with a population of over 1.28 billion. China is also one of the world’s largest economies and a key trading partner with the United States. Table tennis is a wonderful sport that one can play at any age and it can provide a great bridge into the Chinese culture and business world.
For our family, the country is also part of our heritage as my husband is an ABC, (American Born Chinese). So when the opportunity arose to travel with NYTTA representatives to China to take part in a pilot program which included a cultural tour and table tennis training, it was the perfect opportunity to blend all our interests.
Our traveling group included T.J. Wang, STTC Treasurer and NYTTF board member, Linda Leaf, President of the Shorewood Table Tennis Club, Jim Zonoozi, STTC vice president, myself, my husband Jim Moy and our son Nori Moy– the first STTC student player to train at the Shanghai school.
Together, we headed on an 11-day trip, which included a two-day tour of Beijing followed by table tennis training which took place over five days for over six hours a day at the Cao Yanhua Table Tennis Training School in Shanghai. My husband and I joined the group to enjoy the cultural part of the tour, take photos and write about the experience.
In China, table tennis is a national pastime similar to baseball or football in the United States. The heroes that kids look up to are national table tennis champions and you will see them on billboards and TV commercials endorsing everything from cars to Coca Cola. These are superstars that can earn up to six or seven figures and table-tennis playing youth throughout China aspire to be them.
One of China’s past table tennis champions is Cao Yanhua, a former female player who, from 1978 to 1985, won several medals in singles, doubles, and team events in the Asian Table Tennis Championships and in the World Table Tennis Championships. She is the founder and principal of the Can Yanhua Table Tennis Training School, a high performance facility located in Baoshan, a suburb of Shanghai.
Hundreds of young students, ages 6-14, regularly attend Cao Yanhua’s table tennis training programs to practice at least 4 hours of table tennis daily plus a fitness regime including relays, stretching, etc. in addition to studying more traditional academic subjects. The youth attending this school are training in hopes of becoming the most competitive ping pong players in the China. Their goals include winning regional tournaments with the aim of getting to national level and the very best ultimately playing on the Chinese Olympic team.
Make no mistake about it. This is not your basement recreation ping pong. This is a fast-paced game requiring top endurance and core strength to reach a competitive level. The days we visited, we saw young students around 10-12 years old running laps outside in 90+ temperatures. Even the youngest players at 6-years-old are quick, coordinated and very competitive. While there, the STTC group was excited to see exceptional young table tennis players throughout China compete in a regional tournament to determine the best players in the province.
The group from Shorewood Table Tennis Club learned much from the talented coaches and players that they worked with during their time in Shanghai. During their training sessions, they drilled constantly working to make corrections to their forehand and backhand strokes as well as improving their short game and return of service.
“This was a once in lifetime opportunity to get a chance to train with these top-notch players and see a very different style of play in action,” said Nori Moy, who is a senior at Shorewood High School. “It’s not easy to come by this caliber of play anywhere in the United States.”
Long-time table tennis player and STTC vice president Jim Zonoozi added that STTC group found that they weren’t quite prepared for the physically demanding pace of the Chinese game. “People really don’t understand that in its most competitive form the sport of table tennis requires a really high level of endurance, coordination and strategic thinking,” he said. “The youth here demonstrate a lot of discipline required to master these skills.”
Our group was excited to have the opportunity to personally meet with and present a plaque on behalf of the NYTTA to Cao Yanhua herself.
One of the highlights of our Beijing visit was a special dinner we had with one of the most important figures in Chinese table tennis, Mr. Lu Yuansheng, vice president of the Chinese Table Tennis Association. He invited us to a formal dinner at a beautiful old world location decorated with red lacquer doors, decorative screens and antique Chinese lanterns that all harkened back to a previous century. We joined Mr. Lu and his translator for the most visually interesting and delicious Chinese meal of exotic vegetables and meats we’ve ever experienced.
During the meal, we spoke with him about his vision for bringing table tennis to more youth throughout the world. He noted the importance of kids getting away from computers and TV sets and getting more exercise emphasizing that table tennis is a sport that any youth can play and play well if they train hard enough, no matter what their physical ability.
This rare chance to meet with such a high official in the table tennis world enabled The National Youth Table Tennis Association to further strengthen its partnership with the Chinese Table Tennis Association. The goal for both organizations is to promote an exchange of table-tennis playing students to both countries – sending more Chinese students to the U.S. to help coach young students here and also sending more U.S. students to China to learn from the best coaches and players in the world.
“In addition to gaining some top-notch table tennis training while in China, we really made significant progress in further cementing our ties with the country’s table tennis leadership,” said Linda Leaf, STTC president. “We hope that this will help us further expand table tennis training opportunities for Milwaukee-area youth and that this will be the first China trip of many for NYTTA.”
For more information about NYTTA, the Shorewood Club, or if you are interested in next year’s trip to China go to www.shorewoodttc.org, or contact Linda Leaf at email@example.com.
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